Researching the history of Ballast Hill – as a possible site of a Plague Pit from the 17th century as a possible source for material for a piece for the forthcoming Plague exhibition.
Ballast Hill started life as an area of waste and dumping ground in the 16th century on the outside of the Ouseburn on Newcastle city’s then Eastern edge. Ships returning to Newcastle after delivering coal to London or further to Europe carried ballast or ‘balance’ to keep their keels in the water, this was a waste material that was cleared out to allow new coal to be reloaded. It started to be used informally as a burial ground.
It later became a formal non conformist burial ground and then when decommissioned, turned into an open area of green space, gravestones now laid down as pathways. It is an anonymous place until you look beneath your feet. Like a slight absence tucked away behind the new university accommodation and graffiti garage walls.
I have put together a timeline – there is a sense of a very informal burial ground for the poor outside the city walls in the 17th century. The gravestones laid on the ground are actually from a century later – earliest I saw was 1737? – Later the burial ground is fenced and formalised – to keep the pigs out! This is all from after the time of the Black Death and into the time of Cholera. It is like there is a layer below those mournful stones of even more anonymous immigrants from ships all over Europe and the Scots – buried in with the trash, and possibly a plague pit in 1636 ? The map of 1788 shows Ballast hill quite a way out – disconnected from the city. Is Ballast hill a story of immigration as much as plague?
The horror of the plague pit – the sense of anonymous burial and the shame of this echoes through the centuries. We now associate it with genocide (I have stood on the mass graves in Kigali, Rwanda) Holocaust, Bosnia. Also the digging up of these places to provide evidence. The Ebola and aids mass graves have a more cohesive story – a more positive ‘spin’ perhaps……
I think that I somehow want to mark and bring to the surface the people of Ballast Hill from before it’s time as a graveyard, but they are probably unrecorded….Could I /we bring something to the space and record it?
Gravestones laid out in pathways.
Moving inscription to a couple and ‘several of their children’
the old boundary
rubbings being taken by Judy Thomas as a record of the inscriptions
mirror displacements project the view towards the city
bridges in the distance