the crone

opening the door to ideas

I’ve been researching the rise of ‘Pauper funerals’ in the UK.

Also called Section 46 funerals, these are burials that are paid for by the local authority when someone dies alone, with no known next of kin.

What struck me as I read through case studies, watched news articles and looked up Gazette postings, is that when these people died, they got more attention in a few weeks than they may have had in their entire lives.

These almost nameless, unknown people, often living in crowded streets where they spoke to no-one, saw virtually no-one. For years and years.

By chance (or sadly by smell) they are eventually missed, and discovered deceased in their homes.

Council officers visit to sift through personal letters and correspondence, try to find photographs, make connections. They try to get to know the deceased as a person, maybe even trace friends or family.

If no relatives are found, the local authority is responsible for disposing the bodily remains under the Public Health act.

The ‘pauper funeral’ can range from transporting the body in a van to be buried in an anonymous mass grave, to a more respectful and ceremonious committal. It’s usually a burial, as it’s cheaper than cremation.

But how difficult it is to say ‘goodbye’ to these elusive people, often the most shy and reclusive members of our society, when we’ve never really known how to say ‘hello’.

It was comforting to see ministers striving to find relevant and appropriate words to say at the simple ceremonies.

And to see council workers caring enough to attend the service so the ‘pauper’ wouldn’t be sent off alone.

In some cases the thoughtful neighbours even clubbed together to buy a few flowers, so at least one wreath could be laid.

But I wasn’t so sad at the manner of their lonely, austere deaths as I was at the thought of their (seemingly) lonely and anonymous lives.

The non-stories of their life stories.

Lives never properly begun?

I was particularly affected by the life — and death — of Malcom Horncastle, who lived in Leeds.

This much I know about Malcolm Horncastle.

He was born.

He lived in the same house as his parents until they died.

And then he lived in the same house, alone, until he died aged 64.

I know he rode a bike.

He was slim and had dark hair and was always clean shaven.

He used to work at a printers when he was younger.

He visited the local shop for groceries: it was the absence of shopping trips that eventually alerted his neighbours to see if he needed help.

Not one photograph exists of Malcolm Horncastle.

Read the above sentence again, because in a world of social media, smartphones and CCTV, it is worth a moment of thought.

Not one living relative is known.

We know that Malcolm’s life began.

And then it was over.

If I could, I’d love to know the real, true life story of Malcolm Horncastle.

I heard he was very shy.

Maybe something in life frightened him?

Maybe he had a traumatic childhood.

I worry that Malcolm may have perhaps been on the autistic spectrum (like my own son) and never learned to cope socially without mum and dad.

I can’t bear to think of him, year after year, just going through the motions of ‘life’. Summer. Winter. Summer. Winter.

The same. The same.

No one to mark his birthdays or Christmas. No one to share a meal with or talk to.

Or maybe he had a rich fantasy life and I’m worrying about nothing.

Maybe he had a cat.

Maybe he was happy with his own company.

I’d like to think that.

But I’ll never forget him now.


Find out the very little anyone knows about Malcolm Horncastle in this short film about Pauper funerals: The story of one man’s death


Giles Fraser in The Guardian must’ve thought this was a subject worthy of coverage too. He wrote something similar in Lest we forget



18 thoughts on “A life not lived?

  1. semperite says:

    An enjoyable read of a sad subject. Poignant this time of year. I like to think Malcolm enjoyed his own company too.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. jacqueline S says:

      Thank you. Having read a little about people who choose to live alone, I like to think he was happy. Amazing that not one picture exists of him though — like he lived life as the invisible man.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Kim says:

    Jacqueline, this post is a treasure. I loved this: “But how difficult it is to say ‘goodbye’ to these elusive people, often the most shy and reclusive members of our society, when we’ve never really known how to say ‘hello’.” This past year, I have been wondering how to help singletons and one idea I had was to talk to my city about changing the way homes are built, creating communities for solo dwellers instead of isolated, stand-alone houses. Then, a friend asked, “Well, what if some singletons wants to live alone AND they just want to be left alone?” Oh. Hadn’t thought of that. As I’m finding my own balance between solitude (replenishing) and isolation (depressing), I wrongly assumed this is something we’re all trying to work on. I, too, wish we knew Malcolm’s story. P.S. May I re-post this — and/or anything else you would like to create — for the “Who but You?” singleton series? (It is slow-moving but still heartfelt) ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    1. jacqueline S says:

      Thank you for your kind words Kim! As I was writing this post I very much had in mind your blog series on people who choose to live alone. Having read some of the featured pieces, I could see that ‘alone’ doesn’t always mean ‘sad’. So thank you for giving me that insight, although it is difficult for me (as a wife and mother) not to foist my own personal emotional neediness onto the singleton/Malcolm life.
      Please feel free to re-post — I’d be honoured. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Kim says:

        Hooray! I just used the “re-blog” feature and I hope it turns out as expected. (I just now noticed that the introduction I wrote to your re-post is coming up as a Comment on this here page. I had intended it for my blog — not to muddy up your blog!) Please let me know if I should delete the whole re-blog affair and try another way. E-mail me if it is easier: All in all, I am so grateful for your presence in this online community and I thank you for this post, in particular! ❤

        Liked by 2 people

      2. jacqueline S says:

        Thank you Kim. I don’t know much about re-blogging myself I’m afraid!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Kim says:

        (I ended up deleting the Re-blog and I will work on learning how to create a Who but You? post when I have a bit of time this week. I would like to give it the attention it deserves and the Re-blog feature doesn’t allow me much freedom to post it as a Who but You? piece.)

        Liked by 2 people

    2. Stacy Moore says:

      The sentence that struck Kim really stood out to me as well. x

      Liked by 3 people

  3. Kim says:

    Reblogged this on You are not alone and commented:
    What else do I have to offer, but stories? I live alone. I opted out of having children. Whenever I ponder Death – rarely from a place of darkness; more often from a pragmatic, matter-of-fact heart – my hope is that I’ll leave the world a plethora of poetry, photos, memories of my heartfelt awkwardness, and yes, stories.

    I’m going on Day 4 of friendly gatherings and I’m realizing how truly solitary (aside from work) I’ve been. I pushed my limits in both directions this year – feeling deeply blue after too many days of solitude or feeling cranky and depleted after too much time spent with high-energy, well-meaning but wildly talkative folks.

    Who but you knows how to balance the energy of good people with the replenishment of solitude?

    Who but you feels a story coming on and decides when it must be told – in writing, through speaking, via the arts, by way of carrier pigeon?

    Yet, seemingly, not all women and men who live alone strive for such a balance, nor do they share their stories.

    Singletons who appear to isolate themselves: are they living the Living Alone stereotype of being antisocial, depressed, ill, hoarding? Or are they content, quiet?

    And when their lives are over, what then? “…how difficult it is to say ‘goodbye’ to these elusive people, often the most shy and reclusive members of our society, when we’ve never really known how to say ‘hello’.”

    Please join me in celebrating our vulnerable sharing of stories as you read jacqueline S’ thoughts on [the crone] blog. As a writer, mother, and wife, she’s looking out for singletons in the sweetest, most profound way. Thank you, jacqueline.

    Warmth, light and love to all of the readers and writers this time of year and always.

    You are not alone,

    This is part of the Who but You? project, a singlehood series with an initial focus on people who live alone. The project is gradually expanding to also include stories of single (i.e., not married) humans in a variety of living situations. Who but you knows how to be in this world? Join the Who but You? project: e-mail your story, prose, poetry, art and/or photos about singlehood and/or living alone to for consideration. All ages, all countries/cities, all singlehood living situations – from co-housing to living alone, single parent to child free. For more information:

    Liked by 2 people

  4. randyjw says:

    It’s really sad, whether he wanted to be/live alone, or not. I think that element of ‘alone-ness’ turning to loneliness will creep in, at times.


    1. jacqueline S says:

      Yes — I think living alone can be a positive choice. But some days you might want to share a moment, and there’s no one immediately there.


  5. Lynda Heath says:

    I knew Malcolm, I knew his parents. I have photographs of him.


    1. Jacqueline S says:

      Hi Lynda, thanks for sharing. I got the details about Malcolm’s life and death from a short film the BBC featured back in August 2014. Please see The BBC Newsnight team are credited in the article. It would have been good if they had followed up Malcolm’s life with friends and neighbours.


  6. Joe D says:

    Hello, I am a relative of Malcolm through his father. I was wondering what information you had on his family.


    1. Jacqueline S says:

      Hello Joe, I’m afraid the only information I had about Malcolm was from the article I read. It inspired me to think about society and loneliness and anonymity in the modern world. I was contacted by a lady who knew Malcolm and his family, so maybe you can talk to her? She’s left a comment. Thanks for reading my blog.


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