Lasting tribute to woman who escaped slavery and became part of North Shields community

Volunteers from the Old Low Light Heritage Centre, North Shields Fish Quay, have arranged for a memorial stone to be place on the unmarked grave of Mary Ann Macham.

This will take place on Friday 28 February at 2pm when pupils from John Spence Community High School will unveil the memorial stone at Preston Cemetery. A prayer will be said by the Rev Canon Glyn Edwards from Christ Church, North Shields, pupils from Holystone Primary School will lay pots of bulbs on the grave and a local woman Stephanie Towns, whose own research into Mary Ann’s story encouraged the Old Low Light volunteers to organise the exhibition, will read a poem. Members of a community choir who have supported the exhibition will sing songs at the graveside.

Mary Ann has been the subject of Breaking Chains, a successful exhibition, at the heritage centre since last October. It tells the story of how she escaped from a plantation in Virginia, stowed away on a ship bound for the Netherlands, eventually arriving in North Shields where she was met and cared for by the Spence family who were Quakers and local business people. After more than 60 years of freedom, she died in 1893 aged 91.

And as the exhibition draws to a close at the end of the month volunteers thought it would be a fitting and lasting tribute to lay a memorial stone on her final resting place.

Old Low Light volunteer, Nina Brown said: “The exhibition has been very popular and we hope has provided the opportunity for local people of all ages to find out more about how Mary Ann was welcomed into the North Shields community almost 190 years ago and about the part some leading families played in campaigns to abolish slavery.
“During our research we realised that while Mary Ann was buried with her husband, James Blyth, there was no wording on his headstone about her. We felt that someone who had shown such bravery in escaping a life of servitude and who had become part of the town’s history should have a lasting tribute so we set about fund raising to pay for a memorial stone.

“We thought it was appropriate that pupils from John Spence Community High School, named after a leading Quaker whose family befriended Mary Ann, should unveil the stone.”

Around £800 has been raised to pay for the memorial stone, its installation and cover the costs of any work that might be needed to secure the headstone of Mary Ann’s husband. Contributions have included an anonymous donation, proceeds from a cake stall at John Spence Community High School and a donation from the Newcastle Quakers. There has also been a collection box in the Old Low Light café and a crowdfunding appeal. In addition, local stonemasons, Henderson Memorials, provided the memorial stone at cost price.

Nina added: “We would like to thank everyone who has helped us to bring Mary Ann’s story to life and for their kind contributions which have enabled us to provide the stone.”

Any left over money will go to the Modern Slavery Helpline and to Anti-Slavery International.

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