How do you celebrate your birthday? Jelly and ice-cream? Heavy session at the pub? Candlelit meal for two?
How about a guided tour of a vast cemetery, housing 50,000 dead on a prominent hill overlooking Glasgow? Every visit I’ve made to this fine city has been capped with a visit to the Père Lachaise of Scotland, but the delectable Dr. C had never had the pleasure before – so I arranged a visit with the helpful folk at Friends of Glasgow Necropolis and was lucky enough to secure two places on their very first tour, on the very first day they reopened after COVID lockdown.
Armed with an umbrella to anticipate Glasgow’s erratic weather, we met (socially-distanced) a knot of at least 15 other tourists with such a specific interest. They were invariably white, native and of an average age I would guess as retirement.
We all clustered about the fine, relatively-recently restored gates to the Necropolis that adjoin – but are not theologically part of – Glasgow Cathedral. The Necropolis was established as a cemetery for the paying, uh, customer – rather than being buried in the grounds of your parish church.
Our host was the knowledgeable Duncan, who met all queries with a quiet, dry Scots wit – including providing access to his own bathroom (in a socially-distanced fashion) as all public toilets across the city had been closed due to lockdown. This was sadly essential as even the briefest tour of this vast site can take over two hours!
I would love to give you details of the various and sundry monumental treasures we were shown – but I’d rather you took the opportunity to enjoy a tour first-hand! Certain highlights the tour should include are the original Jewish section, where the very first burial took place in 1832, and the tombstone to ‘Gypsy Queen’ Corlinda Lee – who toured the country reading palms and may have even told the future of another monarch, Queen Victoria in 1878. To this day respectful visitors leave coins on her monument and we were no exception!
The entire 37 acre site is overlooked by an imposing pillar and statute of Scottish religious minister and great reformer, John Knox and from the base of his monument you can see fine views over Glasgow.
Another particularly unique and imposing tomb is the Monteath Mausoleum, the resting place of Major Archibald Monteath – a former officer with the East India Company who instructed that his monument be designed with the imagery from the Hindu culture of the land he served in. Of formidable size, it is a substantial job to restore and maintain, so it is currently the subject of the Friends of Glasgow Necropolis’ latest appeal for charitable donations.
The entire site deserves such support of course – I am very grateful to Duncan, the volunteer who gave such a detailed tour to his visitors, and Annette, another volunteer who helped coordinate my visit even when it wasn’t clear if the Necropolis would even be open when we were visiting! Their time is freely given and invaluable.
I cannot recommend this sublime location enough for any visitor to Glasgow, and even if you don’t manage a tour – please talk a walk yourself, sufficient information is available from the Friends’ website to locate the most interesting monuments, or just to enjoy the Victorian memorial grandeur. Please remember as well that the entire site rests on the shoulders of the Friends of Glasgow Necropolis charity, and our donations keeps it going, so feel free to contribute!