Walking (among the) Dead: The Glasgow Necropolis

Edinburgh and Glasgow have a thing. One of the first things you learn when you land in Scotland is that you’re either a Glasgow or an Edinburgh fan, and tempers can flare if you voice the wrong opinion when you’re out with people. Having moved to Edinburgh, I absorbed some of the prejudices on that front (remembering, of course, that it’s all in good fun). When I sat down to look for things to do in Glasgow, one of the results that popped up was a walk through the Necropolis.

 

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Naturally, the new Edinburgh-camp recruit in me immediately snorted at the idea of walking around a cemetery on my day off. The person in me kind of balked at turning dead people into a tourist attraction. But, as so often happens in my life, the curiosity in me got the best of everything else, and I went for a walk around the Necropolis. As it turns out, it was quite a nice place to go for a walk.

The Glasgow Necropolis hasn’t always been a cemetery. It used to be a park, situated just outside the city, where Glaswegians could go for a stroll of an afternoon. Because it was covered in fir trees, it was called Fir Park. Sadly, all the fir trees in the park died off, and the name no longer applied. The trees were eventually replaced with various kinds of trees.

 

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In the 19th century, a new fashion came over from France: Grand cemeteries. After the Parisians built themselves a great big cemetery, the people of Britain decided they should follow suit. To be honest, it wasn’t just a matter of fashion. Before the 1830s, local churches were responsible for burying all of the dead in their parishes, meaning that they had to foot the bill for the burial. However, in the 19th century, people weren’t going to church as often as they had in the past, and there were occasionally disputes over which church was to be held responsible for burying a person. The solution was to establish a public cemetery where anyone could be buried.

 

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At the time, Glasgow was a rapidly expanding city with a larger and larger number of industrial workers, meaning that there were more people who could only afford very simple funerals. The city leaders decided that it would be beneficial to designate a burial area outside the city, and decided that the old Fir Park would be a perfect spot. Thus, the Necropolis was born.

 

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The Necropolis is situated on a hill nearby St. Mungo’s Cathedral, and the original plan was to build catacombs into the hill in order to accommodate what would undoubtedly be a large number of caskets. An entrance was built, but due to the opening of another cemetery south of the city, the measure was deemed unnecessary. Even so, somewhere in the ballpark of 50,000 people have been buried in the Necropolis, with roughly 3,500 tombs marking their spots.

 

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Speaking of tombs, the memorials in the Necropolis have a culture all of their own. While there is a large number of people who could only afford simple burials in the Necropolis, there are also people who were extravagantly rich buried there. These people had elaborate tombs, memorials, and mausoleums built for themselves. To this day, there are tours through the Necropolis which show you the grandest and wildest of these tombs. There’s also a conspiracy theory floating about that the Freemasons, who would have been in charge of all the stonework, constructed the site as one of their super-secret ritual locales. The evidence of this being that there are symbols of the Freemasons scattered about the site (in reality, there were just a bunch of Freemasons buried there).

 

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So if you’re looking for a good place to take a constitutional in Glasgow, take a gander at the Necropolis.

 

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Visiting the Necropolis: 

Getting there: The best way to get to the Necropolis is to take public transport to St. Mungo’s Cathedral, and then walk. The entrance is over a footbridge, which you’ll be able to see from the main entrance to the cathedral.

Opening hours: The Necropolis is open from 7:00 to 4:30 daily.

Admission: Entry to the Necropolis is free! Whether you’re just popping in for a looksie or are taking a walking tour offered by the Friends of the Glasgow Necropolis, there’s no charge for visiting (prior booking is required for the tours, though – click here to see the Necropolis walking tour schedule).

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