Back in April I began a little detective project to trace some people I have no genetic or family connections to at all. I soon hit a dead end so I put the deerstalker away and kind of gave up looking. But this week I resumed my search and it finally paid off. And it has all turned out to be more exciting and more full of crazy synchronicity than I could have imagined.
When I first found Polskeoch Bothy up in the forest above Sanquhar, I was surprised to learn that it had another name – The Chalk Memorial Bothy. Inside the bothy was a guestbook for passers-by to record their visit, and on the first page was a transcribed note explaining that the bothy had been built in honour of Henry and Shirley Chalk ‘after their sudden deaths’ and was signed on behalf of their daughter, Caroline. There were no dates or other details, other than the fact that they lived in Sanquhar.
When I got permission to paint a mural in Polskeoch/Chalk Memorial Bothy I felt strongly that the design needed to have something to connect it to Henry and Shirley Chalk; this was, after all, their bothy. Unfortunately the SUW Rangers didn’t have any contact information for Caroline Chalk and no one locally seemed to know anything about them. This in itself seemed strange because I thought that if the Chalks had lived in Sanquhar, then surely someone would remember something, no matter how far back it was. I tried messaging every Caroline Chalk on Facebook, despite knowing that there was a high chance that her surname was different nowadays, but got nowhere with that.
So this is when I pretty much stopped looking and just got on with the lengthy process (as it has turned out to be) of painting the mural. But I purposefully planned a design which, should I locate relatives of Henry and Shirley in the future, I could then incorporate something to connect them to it. Little did I realise at that point that everything I was doing was already connected to the Chalks in ways I could never have planned.
After recently putting out another request for information on the Sanquhar Facebook page I finally got another lead; The Chalks also had a son named Timothy, who attended the local school sometime in the late 1960s. This was much better because, assuming he hadn’t changed his name then he should be easier to track down than his sister. And a quick Google search immediately revealed a likely candidate for the Tim Chalk I was looking for; right sort of age and based in Scotland…and, as weird fate would have it, this Tim Chalk was also a mural artist.
That wasn’t the only strange thing about the locating of Tim Chalk. An hour or so before I read the message about his name I had been visiting Dean Castle Country Park in Kilmarnock with my family. Sadly the castle is currently covered in scaffolding, and the collections moved to The Dick Institute so it isn’t much to look at right now, but maybe because of this it gave us the opportunity to notice other things which we may have missed otherwise. As well as the beautiful stone lions, we also came upon a sundial; both things which I love and things which I have dozens of photos of from various locations all over the UK. I have always loved the mysticism of sundials (even more so after listening to the incredible podcast S-Town) so I always like to read the quote or motto that they usually all carry.
I was still thinking about sundials as we made our way home and I saw the message about Tim Chalk. And then I Google the name and of course the first result is an artist…and one who specialises in sundials, as well as incredible murals. It all seemed to fit nicely until I found an article about him which stated that he grew up in Glasgow which lead me to doubt things a bit. Then someone else leaves a comment on my Facebook post which reaffirmed things again: the Chalks had only lived permanently in Sanquhar for a year in 1969 whilst Henry was working on a book.
The article about Tim Chalk ( https://www.forwallswithtongues.org.uk/artists/street-artworks/ ) also gave me a few more facts to work from: his parents were originally from Devon and his father taught Classics at Glasgow University – which fitted in with the idea of Henry writing a book whilst on a sabbatical. My next step lead me to looking up ‘Henry Chalk Glasgow University’ which frustratingly brought up no results. So I took out the ‘Henry’ and just searched for any Chalks who worked at the university. And there I found a ‘Hubert Henry Chalk’. Lecturer of Classics. Bingo.
Just to confirm I really had found the people I was looking for, I Googled ‘Hubert Henry Chalk’ and there, on a genealogy website, all the answers lay before me: born in Devon, Lecturer in Greek Classics and a wife named Shirley. I had definitely found the right man. And only minutes later I receive a reply to my email from Tim Chalk which confirmed everything. All of a sudden I had all the answers I had been looking for.
So, in conclusion, I am very happy to have succeeded in my quest. Everything makes more sense now and gives a whole new sense of purpose to my project. I just really hope the Chalk family like the mural and I hope Henry and Shirley would of approved of what I am doing.