A cholera pit was a burial place used in a time of emergency when the disease was prevalent. Such mass graves were often unmarked and were placed in remote or specially selected locations. Public fears of contagion, lack of space within existing churchyards and restrictions placed on the movements of people from location to location also contributed to their establishment and use. Many of the victims were poor and lacked the funds for memorial stones, however memorials were sometimes added at a later date.
Often the bodies of Cholera victims were wrapped in cotton or linen and doused in coal-tar or pitch before placing into a coffin. Each burial was in a pit 8 ft deep and liberally sprinkled with quicklime. The bodies were sometimes burnt before interment.
As Scottish industry flourished and more people were drawn towards urban areas, overcrowding became a serious problem. The result was overcrowding and slum areas, which were to become the scourge of Scotland’s towns & cities for many years. Conditions in the slums were appalling.
Hamilton was no exception to this illness and by 1831 there were around 10,000 people living in the town and most of the inhabitants of the burgh lived in, or near, the triangle bounded by Muir Wynd, Castle Street and Cadzow Street. There were very few toilets and the few that were here, were shared by hundreds of people, so the cholera epidemic in Hamilton would have spread very quickly.
The bodies of these poor people would have to be buried somewhere, and as the Old Hamilton parish church was quite full and they didn’t want to risk contamination, they dug a cholera pit over the wall to the west of the church yard. The bodies didn’t rest in peace for too long though, as 56 years later in 1881, the Hamilton Bowling club were looking for new ground and acquired the land where the mass grave was and built their brand new bowling green.
Today the Hamilton Bowling club-house now sits on the land where the poor cholera victims are buried and the marker stone has indeed been moved twice from it’s original position but it has been kept as a mark of respect to the poor souls and it sits proudly beside the entrance of the club-house.
There is an estimated 137 people buried at this site and sadly their names are lost in the mist of time, maybe one day the names of these old Hamiltonian’s will be found through family research and other resources, if they do then I for one would like to see a plaque dedicated to them.