Graveyards of Glasgow: the Necropolis

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).

Margaret Montgomerie

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.

More information

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.

GWL Glasgow Necropolis Women’s Heritage Walk

Glasgow City Council Necropolis Heritage Trail

Friends of Glasgow Necropolis

Next time: the Western Necropolis.

69 thoughts on “Graveyards of Glasgow: the Necropolis

  1. bitaboutbritain October 19, 2020 / 18:00

    Enjoyed that, Anabel. Loved the focus on the people. My approach was far more general.


  2. TheRamblingWombat October 17, 2020 / 12:10

    You really do learn so much by visiting old grave sites. Thanks Anabel for sharing this one with us.


    • Anabel @ The Glasgow Gallivanter October 17, 2020 / 12:27

      You do get a real insight into the past. Many sad stories (well, all deaths are sad but I mean specific sadnesses such as infant mortality) but also interest social histories such as the nurse Helen Rough.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. notesoflifeuk October 15, 2020 / 23:37

    How did I miss this on my trip to Glasgow a few years back. I had hoped to make the trip back up to Scotland this year, but obviously it will have to wait. I don’t think I’m going to be able to leave Wales soon.


  4. Jessica (Diverting Journeys) October 14, 2020 / 13:03

    Love the Necropolis, and it’s great to learn more about some of the women buried there. Really brings a cemetery to life, so to speak!


  5. Liesbet @ Roaming About October 14, 2020 / 02:24

    By the looks and sounds of it, this cemetery is humongous, Anabel! What an intriguing place for a wander. Or five! One of our daily walking options in the area includes passing through a graveyard. I love that route, as there’s rarely anyone around (we can take a break from wearing our mask) and the fall colors make the place even more gorgeous and peaceful.


  6. Su Leslie October 13, 2020 / 21:06

    First you inspired me to look for art commemorating women in Auckland, now I’m fired up to visit our cemeteries and tell some of the stories contained there.

    I find the husband and two wives grave interesting. I’ve seen one like that too, but from memory one of his mothers-in-law was buried there too. Now that would be a fun way to spend the afterlife.


    • Anabel @ The Glasgow Gallivanter October 13, 2020 / 22:52

      Oh, now that would be tricky! As for the inspiration I’m pleased about that and look forward to some Auckland grave stories. (Several more Glasgow ones to come).

      Liked by 1 person

  7. shazza October 13, 2020 / 20:36

    I didn’t know about the Necropolis. The only cemetery I’ve really looked round is Pere Lachaise in Paris. I wanted to see Colette’s grave and hoped it would be surrounded by cats. I didn’t see the cemetery cats, maybe the Necropolis has a resident kitty. X


  8. susan@onesmallwalk October 13, 2020 / 16:45

    Anabel – What a delightful walk through the graveyard! Like a lot of people, I find them so fascinating. They are often really good reading, and a different take on history. I also wonder what the future holds for cemeteries – they take up so much space and more people are not choosing burial. Will they become a relic of the past? Cheers (!!) – Susan


  9. ms6282 October 13, 2020 / 11:08

    I quite like cemetries myself, particularly where you can seek out tye graves of notable people – Montparnasse and Pere Lachaise in Paris are two notable favourites. But even local churchyards have their interest. Reading the gravestone inscriptions helps to build a picture of the life of ordinary people in the past.


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