Hexham Old Gaol and some of its historical inmates are the inspiration behind a new film installation featuring modern-day ballads created by North East-based artist Matt Stokes in collaboration with musician Richard Dawson.
Drawing from traditional border ballads, which were typically sung unaccompanied and used to tell stories, This Liberty consists of five new songs, each telling the story of a different character associated with the 687-year-old building.
Matt Stokes explains: “Each ballad will be sung by a person representing the contemporary equivalent of one of the people who had links with the Gaol – for example, a song about Hexham’s first gaoler, who was a barber by profession, will be sung by someone embodying a present-day barber (Trev Gibb pictured). Each character will then be set within current surroundings, creating parallels between both the past and present, and socio-political climates of the times.”
The characters whose stories are told through the ballads are: John de Cawood, the first gaoler of Hexham who took up his post in 1332; a petty criminal, typical of many who were imprisoned there; a wealthy prisoner based on a notorious border reiver called Gerard ‘Topping’ Charlton who was imprisoned in the 1530s; a local citizen who visited the gaol and gave money or food to poor inmates; and a priest who would have looked after the spiritual needs of the prisoners.
The project is part of Meeting Point2, a year-long project led by contemporary art agency Arts&Heritage;.
Funded by Arts Council England’s Museum Resilience Fund, Meeting Point2 presents artworks in unexpected places and supports small and medium scale museums to commission artists, who will create a piece of work in response to the venue.