Author, translator and newspaper contributor
THE death occurred at a nursing home in Cheshire of author, translator and former Herald contributor Janet Barlow, of Ravenstonedale, aged 89.
Although she was not a native of the Eden area and often described herself as an “offcomer”, she was welcomed into the Ravenstonedale community and played a full and active part in village life.
She was born in Worksop, Nottinghamshire, where her father was a headmaster, and spent her childhood in Canterbury after her father took on the headship of the city’s King’s School. The nearby cathedral, later to feature in her book Harry Bone Thief, was a special place for her.
The Second World War saw the school and its pupils evacuated to Cornwall, but it returned to Canterbury after the end of the conflict. The young Janet Shirley, as she then was, received her education at King’s School, although, as it was a boys’ school, it was many years before this was officially allowed.
She went to university at Oxford to read medieval French, and it was during this period that she met her future husband, Richard Barlow — usually known as Dick. The couple married in 1950 in Canterbury Cathedral, and went on to have three sons — Roger, Robert and Peter.
The family lived in and near Edinburgh, as her husband was on the staff of the city’s university. When attending history lectures, Janet realised that some of the historical documents students were studying did not have adequate translations, so she set about putting this right.
She translated the anonymous Journal d’un Bourgeois de Paris, published as A Parisian Journal 1405-1449, in 1968. Many further translations followed, including a 12th Century life of Thomas Becket, an 11th or 12th Century poem about the Emperor Charlemagne and a 14th Century guide on how to be an inquisitor. She later wrote books for children aged “from nine to 90”, using story to bring a little of the insight from her translation work to a wider audience.
A career progression for her husband meant a move from Edinburgh to Bristol, where she continued her literary work. At both Edinburgh and Bristol she was involved in providing support for students and their spouses, particularly those from overseas.
During her time in Bristol she and her husband bought a cottage in Ravenstonedale, initially living there during the university holidays and then, after retirement, as a permanent residence. She actually lived in the village for longer than anywhere else in her life.
She was secretary to the parochial church council of St. Oswald’s, Ravenstonedale, edited the village magazine, regularly submitted articles to the Herald, was part of a local prayer group and active in a writing group, Lune Ladies, and had numerous other interests in the area.
Her last few years were shaped by her husband’s illness. She drove to visit him in his nursing home almost every day until his death in March. Even during this time she kept up her translation work, completing the 13th Century Anonimie de Bethune shortly before her death. It is hoped that this will be published posthumously.
Her sons now live in Cheshire, Worcestershire and Stranraer. She has nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.