Carry the Woman You Forgot, 2018
Merchant Adventurers Hall, Newcastle Upon Tyne
Special thanks to:
The Newcastle Upon Tyne Trinity House; Catherine Cookson Foundation; Newcastle City Council; Newcastle University Humanities Research Institute; Film produced by Alan Fentiman.
Carry the Woman You Forgot explores the law through a new courtroom object made to carry a new message, and a public procession. The courtroom object at the centre of the study is the admiralty’s silver oar. It has its origins in the earliest admiralty court, during the reign of King Edward III in the 1360s. It was the only courtroom object processed to the gallows and it is still processed in courtrooms today. Carry the Woman You Forgot focuses on the impact of naval impressment on women, recognising their forgotten voices. In 1605 an oar mace was made for the Admiralty Court then held in the Guild Hall courtroom Newcastle. This is now kept permanently at Trinity House, Newcastle. The 1605 oar was processed here into court before the Mayor and placed on the bench whenever the Admiralty court was in session, it also served as a water bailiff’s oar. It was processed annually on Ascension Day from the court to the quayside and this pageant was repeated well into the 20th century.
A new courtroom oar mace, made by Latchem from solid walnut and silver, left the courtroom, processed by uniformed ‘Brethren’ to Trinity House and it remains there, alongside it’s predecessor. Deliberately oversize and carried aloft, unconventionally like a body, posing questions of how far, or not, the established historic courtroom object can be pushed. On a silver plaque mounted on the blade of the oar is a pithy poem giving voice to the women’s perspective and recognising their role in and their stories of fighting against impressment. Written by the artist, it was informed by letters from Mrs. Margaret Taylor to her impressed husband in 1809, describing her efforts that successfully secured his release. The poem is presented as a sound work to accompany the inscription on the oar, read by Louise Bainbridge, conservator of Trinity House. A plaque dedicated to Mrs. Taylor displaying the same poem remains at the Guildhall marking the legacy of her and thousands of women like her whose voices went un-recognised.