Blog by artist/printmaker Dawn Cole
I have begun to research and think about the final Resting Place which will take place in June 2016. It seems such a long time ago that I began this project, and with it this blog and although my blog has become more about my overall practise there is still the thread of Resting Place running through it.
The final Resting Place will take the project beyond the travels of Clarice as recorded in her diary but will still respond to her recordings of events in France and also to Clarice’s final journey. The final Resting Place takes its starting point from Clarice’s death, on 19th June 1942 at Pembury Hospital near Tunbridge Wells.
Clarice’s death was the catalyst for the series of ‘events’ that resulted in me finding her archive and transcribing her diary. Clarice was taken ill and died very suddenly whilst visiting her mother who was staying in Staplehurst. It seems ironic that she spent most of her life devoted to nursing and saving others, both during the First World War and after, but seems that she may have ignored her own signs of ill-health.
Three documents from the archive relate to Clarice’s death and these have been the subject of my initial research that has taken me to the site of the hospital where she died.
The Chapel, Pembury Hospital
Pembury Hospital was first developed in 1836 by the Tonbridge Poor Law Union as a workhouse, becoming a hospital in 1938. The hospital closed and was demolished, except for a Grade II listed chapel, in 2010/11 and replaced by The Tunbridge Wells Hospital. I was disappointed to learn that the original hospital no longer exists but the original chapel that is still on the site has sparked my interest and last week I was fortunate to be shown around it.
The chapel is sadly not open to the public very often and has had one of the new hospital’s car parks built right in front of it, and access is only by prior arrangement and with an escort or security, making it a difficult venue to use for an event.
The chapel is no longer used as there is a new, modern, multi faith chapel within the new hospital. However, when Clarice died this chapel would have provided a place for quiet reflection and support during times of grief and anxiety and I wonder if Clarice’s Mother would have visited it for comfort following her daughter’s death. I will never know, but the notion is there for me to ponder.
The chapel, although showing signs of disuse inside, had a welcoming atmosphere. The ghosts of its past, forever present;
the workhouse occupants, those seeking solitude and comfort, soldiers during both the First and Second World Wars, when apparently the wounded men were carried in on stretchers which were laid across the tops of the wooden pews; pews that still bear the scars where the stretcher handles scuffed and marked the wood; the windows, shattered during raids in WW2, now replaced; the organ showing the signs of much use, silent; and voices caught in the whisper of the trees outside. It was a space I wanted to spend time in, it felt like it had stories to tell.
I like that I have no way of knowing if the chapel has any physical connection to Clarice, it doesn’t matter. For me the interest lies in it as a symbol of what was there in 1942, the only remaining marker of a site where she spent her last living moments.