Glasgow Necropolis, Scotland’s first garden cemetery, opened in 1833 on the hilly site of the former Fir Park, a location which gives a pleasing tiered view. At the bottom of the hill is Glasgow Cathedral, and the top is dominated by the 12 ft statue of John Knox on its 58 ft column. Knox, the most prominent figure of the Scottish Reformation, is not buried here: the statue predates the Necropolis by several years.
I have featured Glasgow Necropolis several times before – it’s a favourite place to wander, and is one of the Glasgow Women’s Library Heritage Walks that I help to lead in more normal years. However, there’s always something new to discover and my files are full of unused photographs of favourite graves. It won’t surprise you to know that many of them tell a women’s heritage story, and most of them are in GWL’s walk – here are a few which aren’t (but which might be in the future).
This beautiful Gothic monument, modelled on Henry VII’s chapel at Westminster, was commissioned by Matthew Montgomerie in 1842 for his wife Margaret. Originally, it was adorned by Mossman sculptures of Hope and Resignation which have since disappeared. Poor Margaret (like many women alive in his time, including Mary Queen of Scots) cannot escape the scrutiny of John Knox who looks down on her from above.
Frances Phillips and Miss Cates
Miss Cates became the second wife of solicitor and travel writer William Rae Wilson, to whom she erected this mausoleum in 1849. It’s built in Moorish-style with inverted torches carved on the outside, symbolic of death and resurrection. Miss Cates is also buried here, but I can find no further information about her, other than that she was “an English lady of good family”. The inscription merely records her as William’s affectionate wife. The tomb’s third occupant is William’s first wife, Frances Phillips. I wonder who he chose to spend the afterlife with?
Eliza Jane Aikman
Eliza Jane Aikman (1852-1929) was Glasgow’s first female Parish Councillor and founded the Glasgow Infant Health Visitors Association, the basis for child welfare practice. “One who went about doing good and having served her day and generation by the will of God fell on sleep”.
Helen Marshall Rough
Helen Rough, who died in 1932, was the founder of the Glasgow and West of Scotland Cooperation of Trained Nurses. We specifically went looking for her grave during lockdown after my friend and fellow tour guide, Beverly McFarlane, did some research on her which gave me a personal interest. Helen is buried here with her sister, Jane, and brother-in-law, James Bell, English Master at the High School of Glasgow. In the census of 1871 Helen is recorded in James’s household, an address which I recognised instantly as the home of my mother-in-law over a century later (she died in 1993), although by then the house was divided into flats and she occupied what would have been the drawing room floor in Helen’s time. I was delighted by this coincidence.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief tour of some of the lesser known women in Glasgow Necropolis.
There are several places to go for more information. GWL and the City Council have downloadable guides and maps (and another guide, Louise Bell, has done a Twitter version of GWL’s). The Friends of Glasgow Necropolis is a splendid organisation which offers guided tours and raises money to restore neglected tombs.
Next time: the Western Necropolis.