Following in the footsteps of Harley documents our research and travels in writing my latest book, The Adventures of a Black Edwardian Intellectual, The Story of James Arthur Harley. It is a wry look at our experiences, including the sublime, funny, unbelievable, poignant moments in realizing what Harley had undertaken and achieved.
So, who are we? I am Pamela, the author, as my mother calls me, and my mother, my fellow researcher and traveller in arms. We, tongue in cheek, refer to ourselves as the dilapidated duo, half-dead and bruk up. Why? I have a hereditary blood condition, sickle cell anaemia. The condition has taken its toll on my body, which I describe as the Taj Mahal - crumbling slowly. Most noticeably, I walk with a very pronounced limp. My mother suffered a heart attack in 2013 and, as a result, lost a tremendous amount of weight. We pride ourselves that we're still going and will get there in the end.
Don't judge the book by the cover
The following morning, we explored Chislet and Marshside and met with Reverend Braddy, the priest at St Mary the Virgin Church in Marshside and Chislet.
The day was dull, with the sun doing its best to pierce through the dense cloud. Frieda gave us directions to the village's centre and the places we wanted to visit.
We met Reverend Braddy at the Gate Inn public house in Boyden Gate, another small hamlet next to Marshside. Reverend Braddy accompanied us in our car and took us to St John's Church in Marshside, where Harley was a curate.
The church, now a private house, is adjacent to open farmland for as far as the eye can see. I stood in silence, surveying the landscape. Marshside looked trapped in a 1900s-time warp.
Frieda kindly extended an invitation to her Women's Institute meeting. The meeting was held at the village hall in Highstead, another hamlet next to Chislet. We arranged to have dinner at the Gate Inn. Frieda would collect us and take us to the meeting in her car. When we arrived at the venue, Frieda asked us to stay in the car; she had a mischievous smile when she returned. She had informed the group that her family was visiting from London. I was reminded of the scene from the film Blazing Saddles when we entered the room. A hushed silence descended, and I looked for the tumbleweed to blow through. One of the members reconfirmed Frieda's information. 'This,' looking at us, 'is your family?' 'Yes', said Frieda, and we took our seats. Everyone was polite, and we were invited to participate in the buffet. We made our way around the buffet table; I could see the quizzical looks and darting glances back and forth between the members as they talked with their eyes.
The WI speaker introduced himself and opened his presentation with a question. 'Has anyone been in a magistrate court?' Knowing what I was doing and aware of this audience's preconceived notion about its new visitors and 'Frieda's family', I put my hand up. All heads immediately turned to look at me.
The speaker was salivating as he asked with trepidation, 'in what capacity?' Heads still turned, and all eyes were firmly fixed on me.
I took a deep breath, paused for dramatic effect, released and said: 'I have been a serving magistrate on the Buckinghamshire Bench for the past ten years.' 'Oh' was his deflated response.
I did feel obliged to put the members of the Women's Institute out of their misery, and I delivered a short presentation about Harley and the research I was conducting.
Some members found it fascinating; surprisingly, some were incredulous and refused to believe a black curate was in the parish in 1909.