In the centre of Glasgow, surrounded by new and renovated buildings all around, lies one of the city’s oldest graveyards. Originally established in 1719, the cemetery was active for nearly 200 years, finally closing in 1915. For a time it was the place to be buried, as many wealthy merchants were buried here. You’d be forgiven for thinking it was meant for more modest folk, but this was a time where strict Calvinist rules concerning ornate monuments were in place. So simple and modest was the order of the day.
In 1826 a church was built at the southern end of the cemetery, and it was known at St. David’s Parish at the time (it is now known as Ramshorn Kirk). Unfortunately when I went here it was currently undergoing some sort of renovation, as it was covered in scaffolding and many construction workers were about. If it hadn’t been, I might of discovered the plaque on the wall of the church that commemorates the fact Sir John A. MacDonald, the first Prime Minister of Canada, was born in this area in 1815. As Glasgow developed, so did the streets and businesses. Ingram Street, on the south side of the cemetery, began to encroach on the cemetery area, and many graves were moved to the back side of the church. Some stones were placed along the wall, and a few graves were left in situ. As a result, the stones do not necessarily reflect were there are burials.
As you walk into the cemetery, it mostly looks like an enclosed park at first (in fact, I thought I was in the wrong place as there was a man there playing with his dog when I first arrived.) And in fact, that’s mostly what it is. There is a smaller enclosed area with graves that marks where the first church stood. Many of the graves in both the outer and inner sections were nearly impossible to read, the soft stone either worn down by the elements, or completely covered in moss. The long grass also did not help in many cases, obscuring many of the stones lying on the ground. What I found fascinating were the gravesites covered in cages – some were complete, with the cage forming a perfect box around the gravesite, others were missing tops, doors, or parts of the wall. Even these are much larger than other examples that I’ve seen, I believe they must be mortsafes, created to prevent body-snatching from Resurrectionists who supplied medical schools with (mostly) recent remains of interred bodies. This seems to have been a big problem in Scotland, as most examples of mortsafes seem to originate here, as well as guardhouses or watchtowers that some cemeteries employed to deter would-be grave robbers.