Last year, with my colleague Derek Frood, we made an audio trail within a hidden Jewish cemetery in Plymouth but what we thought would be a quiet weekend, with a handful of curious people, turned into a kind of marathon. Around 120 people turned up each day and those who didn’t have smart phones or headphones waited patiently for one of the 15 MP3s to become available.
Knowing there was the potential for further trails and realising now there was a thirst for hidden stories in hidden places we put a bid into the Arts Council to research and develop more stories across the south west. This will include working with the Exeter synagogue and their family history group for their cemetery off Magadalen Road and Kehillat Kernow, (the Jewish Council of Cornwall) with the Friends of Ponsharden Cemetery, to research the Jewish & Dissenters cemetery in Falmouth (see above, images taken by Derek Frood on our site visit there last week).
Once we have collected our stories we will go into a studio with sound technicians, the wonderful people at Stage Technical Services in Exeter and investigate different ways of recording them to make our finished trails.
Currently the Plymouth audio trail is uploaded onto an MP3 and each story is a different track meaning you can be in charge of your own wanderings and move to whatever part of the graveyard you want to go to. Alternatively you can listen on a smartphone via Soundcloud; operating the trail on your own phone makes it easier to navigate for a lot of people.
The idea that people could wander around listening to a soundtrack meant that the peace and stillness of the site remained which is something we felt was important. As people waited they could take in the site, see people making the tour but at the same time remain oblivious to the audio they were watching them listen to. This had a particular powerful affect on one audience member in Plymouth last year…
“The music and voices really made the people ‘come alive’ the particular reference about the physicality of the Stonehouse police suddenly jolted me into the realisation that I was standing on the remains of that particular body and I found that a very powerful moment. The other thing that impacted on me was noticing the other listeners. They were randomly dotted around the cemetery, solemn statues, heads bent down like they were watching over the dead; every so often they would slowly move to a new grave and take up their positions again. It’s difficult to put into words, but it felt like a strange transposition, the dead being brought to life by the stories while the living had become immobile listening to them”.
“… difficult to put into words”, they managed to do so very eloquently.
Over the next few months we will be collecting our stories and will update our findings on our website here.
With thanks to Arts Council South West, Exeter City Council and Feast Cornwall for funding to develop Hidden Stories: Hidden Places.
The old Jewish cemetery in Plymouth will be open for audio trails during the Plymouth History Festival, every Sunday between 11-3pm and booking is essential, so we can keep those waiting times down. All details are here and below.
OLD JEWISH CEMETERY AUDIO TRAIL
The Old Jewish Cemetery, Lambhay Hill, Plymouth PL1 2NP
Sunday 7, 14, 21 and 28 May and 4 June, 11am-4pm (last entry at 3pm)
Tours take place at quarter past, half past, quarter to and on the hour
Located on Plymouth’s historic Hoe, in the shadow of The Citadel, lies a hidden secret: The Old Jewish Cemetery. Contained within high stone walls it has always remained hidden from public view. The only clue to its existence is an insignificant door. With the aid of funding from Vital Sparks and Drakes Foundation, recorded with Stage Technical Services and hosted by the Plymouth Hebrew Congregation, an audio trail has been created in the garden cemetery by Ruth Mitchell and Derek Frood, aka Ripple. It brings to life the lives of those buried within this hidden gem. In 1740 this plot was a family garden; today it is a calm oasis that hides a wealth of history and culture.
If you are coming please bring your smart phone and headphones (its by far the best way to hear them downloadable at https://soundcloud.com/ripple-theatre) or use the MP3 players that will be available on the day. Please note: The Cemetery includes entry and exit steps with uneven terrain throughout and therefore is not suitable for those with limited mobility. For those unable to attend the Cemetery, an opportunity to hear the audio trail at the Synagogue Vestry is available on Tuesday 23 May.
Free / Donations very welcome / Booking essential due to limited spaces via 07753 267616 or firstname.lastname@example.org