The Merchants House of Glasgow bought part of the estate of Wester Craigs in 1650 and for much of the 17th Century the Merchants House had farming tenants on part of the land. Subsequently, around 1777, the ground was planted with fir trees and became known as Fir Park. Then in 1804 when the firs started to die they were replaced mainly by elm and willow and the area became a Victorian park and arboretum.
In around 1831, drawing inspiration from the world famous Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, it was noted that “The Fir Park appears admirably adapted for a Père La Chaise (cemetery) which would harmonise beautifully with the adjacent scenery, and constitute a solemn and appropriate appendage to the venerable structure (the Cathedral)”. There was a competition for the converting of Fir Park into a garden cemetery, prizes were offered and 16 plans were received and put on exhibition in the Dilettante Society’s Exhibition Rooms in the Argyll Arcade. Subsequently, a Landscape Gardener, George Mylne, was appointed Superintendent and Head Gardener, work began and The Glasgow Necropolis was established by the Merchants House.
In 1833 the Merchants House purchased land (for six shillings a square yard or twenty five pence per square metre) for the building of a bridge to provide the main entrance to their new cemetery and it was intended that the view from the bridge “would form a scene so magnificent and as interesting as would scarcely be equalled by anything of the kind in the UK” On 18th October 1834 the foundation stone was laid with “much pomp and ceremony”. James Ewing, the Lord Provost and an ex-Dean of Guild, who had been the guiding spirit behind the creation of the Necropolis, led the procession and children from the local charity school sang psalms and said prayers and a choir from the Cathedral gave the musical accompaniment. In the cavity of the foundation stone was placed a hermetically sealed phial containing current coins, almanacs, newspapers of the day, the draft contract, a specification of the bridge, a list of the directors and members of the Merchants House and copies of the inscriptions. The bridge once crossed the Molindinar Burn (which now runs in a culvert under Wishart Street) where, in the 6th century, St. Mungo baptised converts to Christianity. It is known as “the Bridge of Sighs” - called after the bridge in Venice - and thought to have earned this name because it formed part of the route taken by funeral processions.
The following inscription which is on the Entrance Facade was originally on an Obelisk near the bridge.
THE ADJOINING BRIDGE
Was erected by
THE MERCHANTS HOUSE OF GLASGOW
To afford a proper entrance to their new cemetery
combining convenient access to the grounds with suitable decoration
to the venerable cathedral and surrounding scenery to unite the tombs
of many generations who have gone before with the resting places
destined for generations yet unborn, where the ashes
of all shall repose until the resurrection of
the just, when that which is born a natural body shall
be raised a spiritual body, when this corruptible must put on
incorruption, when this mortal must put on immortality, when death is
swallowed up in victory.
James Martin, Dean of Guild
“Blessed is the man who trusteth in God and whose hope the Lord is”
The Entrance Facade
Within the cemetery, pathways wind uphill through rows of decorative memorials and mausoleums, some of which were designed, in every architectural style, by renowned architects such as Alexander “Greek” Thomson, David Hamilton, John Bryce, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and JT Rochead, and there are numerous obelisks, statues and pinnacles, decorated in ornate sculptural detail of the finest quality, in memory of the wealthiest inhabitants buried there. The skyline at the summit is dominated by a soaring 58 foot/(17.7) metre tall doric pillar topped with a 13 foot/(4 metre) high statue – already in place in 1825 before the area became a burial ground - of John Knox, prominent Scottish clergyman and leader of the Protestant Reformation.
The Glasgow Necropolis is the final resting place for at least fifty thousand people who have been interred there and there are approximately 3,500 memorials.
In 1966 ownership of the Glasgow Necropolis was transferred from the Merchants House to Glasgow City Council (then The Corporation of Glasgow) and now The Merchants House bears no responsibility for the maintenance of the Necropolis.
Further information about the history of the Necropolis prior to 1966 can be found in the book “The Merchants House of Glasgow, 1605-2005” published by The Merchants House of Glasgow in 2004, and available for sale from The Merchants House.
The Friends of Glasgow Necropolis, established in 2005, is a Registered Scottish Charity with the purpose of promoting the conservation of the Necropolis and increasing public awareness of the Necropolis and those buried there. For further information see the website of The Friends of Glasgow Necropolis www.glasgownecropolis.org Email: firstname.lastname@example.org and also the recently published book “Glasgow Necropolis Archives” by Ruth Johnston, Deputy Chairman of the Friends of Glasgow Necropolis.