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Norfolk artist to create poignant memorial to nearly 8,000 sick, stillborn or premature babies buried in unmarked graves

PUBLISHED: 18:28 06 December 2018 | UPDATED: 22:55 06 December 2018

Norfolk artist Charlotte Howarth, who is working on a memorial to nearly 8,000 babies buried in unmarked graves in Belfast City Cemetery. 
Photo: PETER BIRD

Norfolk artist Charlotte Howarth, who is working on a memorial to nearly 8,000 babies buried in unmarked graves in Belfast City Cemetery. Photo: PETER BIRD

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A Norfolk artist is creating a sculpture commemorating the tragically short lives of nearly 8,000 premature, sick and stillborn babies buried in part of a public cemetery, sometimes eight to a plot.

Norfolk artist Charlotte Howarth, who is working on a memorial to nearly 8,000 babies buried in unmarked graves in Belfast City Cemetery. 
Photo: PETER BIRDNorfolk artist Charlotte Howarth, who is working on a memorial to nearly 8,000 babies buried in unmarked graves in Belfast City Cemetery. Photo: PETER BIRD

Charlotte Howarth, who lives at West Acre, near Swaffham, has worked on commissions ranging from sculptures for hospital arts schemes, to installations for Westminster Abbey, South Norfolk District Council, and the Law Society of Northern Ireland.

However, her latest project, which will see a memorial installed in the Baby Public Plot at Belfast City Cemetery, is by far the most heartrending job she has taken on.

Detail of a model of the memorial being designed by Norfolk artist Charlotte Howarth to commemorate the short lives of nearly 8,000 babies buried in unmarked graves in Belfast City Cemetery. 
Photo: PETER BIRDDetail of a model of the memorial being designed by Norfolk artist Charlotte Howarth to commemorate the short lives of nearly 8,000 babies buried in unmarked graves in Belfast City Cemetery. Photo: PETER BIRD

“My mind almost couldn’t take the figure in,” she said. “There are still people all over Ireland trying to track down where their babies are buried.”

The infants were interred between 1945 and 1996, with many parents never offered a chance to see or hold their children before they were taken away.

The memorial is the result of a 17-year campaign by Agnes Close, 64, who held her son Maxwell for just a few minutes before he died nine hours after his birth 45 years ago.

Mrs Close hoped the scheme would help heal the grief and pain still felt by the thousands of families whose children were buried in the plot, which is made up of a small wooded area with numbered trees interspersed with graves, each containing the bodies of several babies.

“The health authorities thought it was best for parents not to see their babies after they died; it was nothing but cruel, and it inflicted further pain on grieving families,” she said.

Mrs Close, who has helped dozens of other affected families trace the remains of their children, met with Ms Howarth in Belfast, with a focus group she set up consulted on the memorial’s final design.

Carved from a one-and-a-half ton piece of Kilkenny limestone, the 1.5 metre-high headstone will feature a baby lying on a bed of leaves, with the inscription: “There is no foot so small that it cannot leave an imprint on this world,” on the reverse.

Ms Howarth, whose city centre sculpture celebrating Norwich’s historic textile industry was destroyed in a car crash a few weeks ago, said: “The families have been waiting for so many years and it is a great privilege to work with them to mark the graves and recognise all those babies.”

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