Esme and Dougie and I took a walk up to the old cholera pit on the lands of South Barr Farm this morning. Now known as Deid Man’s Plantin’ due to the sycamore trees that have sprouted there, the site is the mass grave of the local victims of the 1834 cholera epidemic and is one of several in North Ayrshire. It was a suitably gloomy day for such an expedition.
Cholera originated in the Ganges Delta in India, spreading to Russia via the trade routes in 1817 and subsequently spreading to the rest of Europe and on to North America and the rest of the world. The first recorded occurrence of the disease in Britain was in Sunderland, Tyne and Wear, in the autumn of 1831, and by 1832 it had reached Scotland.
There were two hundred recorded cases in Beith in 1834, and at least one hundred and twenty deaths. No records of those buried in Barrmill’s cholera pit have survived but local tradition has it that around forty residents of the village contracted the disease after visiting a gypsy camp to have their fortunes told. All were dead within a week and were hastily interred in the pit since the Beith parish cemetery was already full.
After lying unmarked and almost forgotten for many years, Deid Man’s Plantin’ was recently renovated by the Barrmill Conservation Group and a cairn erected in memory of the unnamed cholera victims. Despite its rather grisly origins it’s now a lovely spot with great views across the farm lands and over to Greenhills. Access is via the stile on Ginger Hill and across the field, which is quite likely to be full of cows. If you’re planning to visit, don’t forget your wellies!