Ruth Hogan’s Cemetery Tour
by Rowan Lennon
Local Bedford author Ruth Hogan has achieved international success with her first two published novels ‘The Keeper of Lost Things’ and ‘The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes’.
Ruth is president of the friends of Foster Hill Road Cemetery and a passionate cemetery lover. Her second novel ‘Sally’ is inspired by Foster Hill Road Cemetery where she frequently walks her dogs. The cemetery is almost an extra character in the novel and Ruth has featured monuments, names, and the beautiful landscape. So I was very pleased when Ruth asked me to lead a tour based around the book.
There were forty people on the tour on the 24th November, it was an overcast day but luckily the rain held off. I had researched some of the graves mentioned in the novel; Ruth had created her own stories around them and told the audience about her sources of inspiration.
One of the most iconic monuments in ‘Sally’ is the ’Cate Blanchett Angel ‘a life-size kneeling angel situated at the corner of the plot of the Ibbett family. The angel has been displaced by a later plainer monument in granite to Charles Ibbett a wealthy dairyman and farmer. The angel may have been the monument to his mother Rebecca, who died in 1904 and who started him on his path to success.
The graves of children featured in the book. There is the beautiful marble monument of the sleeping two year old Jean Turing Eve which has been turned into ‘Little Marie’. We walk to the Children’s corner at the far end of the cemetery where the touching sights of toys decorate their little graves.
Ruth uses the story of her own uncle in the book, Sapper W W Ralph. Sapper Ralph is mentioned in the book as a character who died of heatstroke in Mesopotamia although Ruth’s uncle was killed in action.
In her book Ruth describes ‘the Field of Inebriation’ where the headstones loll backwards and forward as if drunk! We arrive at the bench with the great view over Bedford where in the book Masha and Edward have lunch. Other stops include the honeypots, cremation plaques that resemble honeycomb and the small cremation stones in the ‘dwarfs’ graveyard.
Ruth is also inspired by the beautiful landscape, trees and wildlife in the cemetery. One of her favourite trees is Arbutus unedo, the strawberry tree with its frosted reddish berries. (My Love’s an Arbutus) In the book Masha hangs decorations on the tree in memory of her son and the children in the cemetery. When we arrive at the tree, there are the decorations!
We end the tour at the wall plaque of Lily Phyllis Phoebe Gilbert, who died in 1956; an inspirational name for Ruth who stops and chats to Lily on her walks. In the book she becomes the mother of Sally Redshoes. In reality Lily was born in Irthingborough, Northampton, the daughter of Joseph John Inwards who worked in the shoe trade. Lily was a widow of 36 when she married her second husband Charles Gilbert age 25 in 1911.
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