Scotland's historic graveyards finally rest in peace

A NEW taskforce is to be set up to safeguard the future of five historic graveyards in Scotland's capital which have been placed on an international "danger list."

• Greyfriars Kirkyard, one of Edinburgh's historic burial grounds. Picture: TSPL

Heritage watchdogs and city council officials have begun moves to transform the fortunes of the final resting places of some of Edinburgh's most celebrated figures.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The graveyard trust will oversee moves to restore run-down graveyards, repair dilapidated monuments, and encourage more visitors to the historic burial grounds.

Its creation is also expected to lead to improved security at the five locations – the Old and New Calton Burial Grounds, and Canongate, Greyfriars and St Cuthberts Kirkyards – and help tackle anti-social behaviour problems.

It is hoped the creation of the Historic Graveyards Trust will raise awareness of Edinburgh's links with the likes of philosopher David Hume, economist Adam Smith, poet Robert Fergusson, and architect James Craig.

New historic trails of the city, encouraging visitors to discover the graveyards, are expected to be created as well as special events commemorating historic figures and landmark anniversaries. Proper interpretation panels are also likely to be installed for the first time.

The city itself put the graveyards forward for inclusion on the "at risk" list drawn up by the World Monuments Fund. Others include Barcelona's Sagrada Familia cathedral, the Sanctuary of Machu Picchu in Peru and the historic centre of Argentinean capital Buenos Aires.

Officials at the city council have admitted they have been allowed to fall into decline over the years, and are regularly targeted by vandals or people using drink and drugs.

The new taskforce, which will include representatives of the council, heritage organisations and church bodies, is expected to agree protocols for the repair and maintenance of each site, and how they can be promoted better to tourists.

The trust is expected to draw up detailed masterplans to improve each of the five graveyards over the next few years, similar to how major repairs have been carried out at the Nelson Monument on Calton Hill and the Melville Monument, in St Andrew Square Garden.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Adam Wilkinson, director of Edinburgh World Heritage, said: "We are making good progress in securing the future for Edinburgh's historic graveyards. The aim is to eventually set up a new charity as a way of co-ordinating maintenance, conservation and interpretation. The next major step will be a scoping study to understand the sorts of opportunities and challenges that we will all need to take into account. We are planning a future for the graveyards that recognises their very real significance to the city and nation."

A spokeswoman for the city council said the new initiative was aimed at promoting the burial grounds "locally and nationally" as well as raising awareness of Scotland's architectural heritage. Robert Aldridge, the city's environment leader, added: "We are fully committed to preserving and protecting the valuable heritage of Edinburgh's most historic burial grounds and the creation of a charitable trust will help towards this."

Who's who of Edinburgh's graveyards

Canongate Kirkyard

Close to the foot of the Royal Mile, the graveyard, is notable for its links with Robert Burns. Poet Robert Fergusson, an influence on the Bard, is buried in the kirkyard. It is also the resting place of economist Adam Smith and David Rizzio, the murdered secretary of Mary Queen of Scots.

New Calton Cemetery

Situated on the south of Regent Road, the New Calton burial ground opened in 1820 to re-inter the remains excavated from Old Calton Cemetery during the building of Waterloo Place. Notable residents include architect David Bryce. It includes some early 18th-century monuments which had been brought from sections of the old cemetery.

Greyfriars Kirkyard

Greyfriars is famous for its association with Bobby, the Skye Terrier who is reputed to have guarded his owner's grave for 14 years after the man's death. Also buried here are Sir Robert Sibbald, physician to Charles II, and 17th century judge George Mackenzie, better known as "Bluidy Mackenzie", the scourge of the Covenanters, and whose ghost is said to haunt the graveyard.

Old Calton Cemetery

Built in 1718 in the Shadow of Calton Hill for the burial of tradesmen and merchants, the graveyard is dominated by the black obelisk of the Political Martyrs' Monument, which commemorates those who suffered in the fight for electoral reform in the 1790s. The burial ground is the final resting place of philosopher David Hume, who died in 1776. Other residents include painter David Allan; Robert Burn, who built the Nelson Monument on Calton Hill; and publisher Archibald Constable.

St Cuthbert's Kirkyard

There has been a burial ground on this site, at the corner of Lothian Road and Princes Street, for more than 1,000 years. In the 18th and 19th centuries, it was plagued by grave-robbers, and this led to the walls being heightened to 8ft, and the installation of a watchtower in 1827. Famous residents include mathematician John Napier; George Meikle Kemp, designer of the Scott Monument; and the author Thomas de Quincey, right, who wrote 'Confessions of an English Opium Eater'.