Matt Stokes with Richard Dawson at Hexham Old Gaol


Project Info


  • Matt Stokes
  • Richard Dawson

Art Forms

  • Installation Film and Audio


  • Hexham Old Gaol
  • Woodhorn Charitable Trust
  • Arts Council Museum Resilience Fund

Project Outline

This Liberty is part of the Meeting Point programme.

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 Hexham Old Gaol.

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.

“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
  • a priest who would have looked after the spiritual needs of the prisoners

The singers were Trev Gibb, Richard Dawson, George Unthank, Marry Waterson and Dawn Bothwell.


  • Raise the profile of the site within the locality
  • Draw attention to the sites rich history and the value of this historical asset within the town
  • Provide a platform whereby future programming can be developed


Arts&Heritage is supporting the ten participating museums throughout the process, sharing knowledge of presenting contemporary art projects and commissions in non-traditional art spaces.

A networking event between the participating museums and 70 artists from across the UK took place at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art and visits to artists’ studios were arranged. Museum teams also met with peers at other properties to learn how they successfully delivered contemporary art projects at their museums and heritage sites.

All museums developed their own Artist’s Brief. Following the networking event artists were invited to send in an expression of interest to museums that interested them.

Four artists were shortlisted by each museum to draw up a more detailed proposal and were paid £500 each before a final artist was selected to deliver the project.


“A great gem. We have lived here (Hexham) for five years before we discovered it.”

  • Nearly 4,000 people visited the museum and saw the installation – a significant increase on visitor numbers for the same period the previous year
  • 55 people attended a special performance at the museum

“Very interesting and enjoyable. Good clear exposition of the topic. We enjoyed the ‘This Liberty’ installation – very haunting.”

The Artist

Matt Stokes is an artist whose works begin with an immersive research process that explores the history and social structures of the place he is working in, resulting in the production of films, installations and events. These outcomes hold collaboration at the centre of both their formation and philosophy, often being made directly with people from the communities they are celebrating.

Stokes has exhibited widely in the UK and internationally, including solo exhibitions at Matt’s Gallery (London), CAAC (Seville, Spain), Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art (Gateshead), Kunsthalle Fridericianum (Kassel, Germany) and De Hallen (Haarlem, Netherlands). He is represented by Workplace Gallery, London/Gateshead and Markus Lüttgen, Cologne.