the Life of Jim Booth: From bench to slab

21 February 2019

bench lifeLife did not begin easy for Jim. Technically he wasn’t a Leicester man at all; he was from the north-east. The kids took the mickey out of his funny accent, which over the course of several painful months he finally got rid of. His family could make no secret of the fact he was not a favourite child. It’s hard to know when the feeling became solidified.

Jim joined the Army but after a few years, he left. There was some incident which made this necessary. Jim had a preference for other males, and in those days, this was a major problem in very many walks of life. Jim walked all of them: The Army, a highly conservative family, a particularly principled neighbourhood, a not very liberal-thinking northern town.

We don’t know where Jim went next. The problem is we have to work from whispered conversations of ‘wicked uncle Jim’ and sources such as hospital and death records, which focus on the end of his life.

At some point Jim was on a park bench and this was enough for the family shutters to come firmly down for (nearly) the final time. He was definitely homeless for a period, back in his home town. But good news comes along on his death certificate. It shows he was sharing his life with someone else. When his young nephews and nieces were ‘kept away’, all those years earlier, is it possible this was due to his same-sex living arrangements, rather than him being long-term ‘homeless’?

When life was pronounced extinct at the hospital bed in Leicester, a bizarre chain of events occurred. Jim’s cousin was summoned to the hospital to identify the body, laying on the slab. For whatever reason, his words at the time were ‘he’s nothing to do with me’. The Bona Vacantia Division were fully notified and wheels put in motion which led to our uncovering the story (a dozen years later). The nephews and nieces expressed regret at not knowing him and finally realising that the body was in fact their uncle…

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