In the 1960s, the construction of the M8 took out three ancient graveyards in the Anderston district of Glasgow – the Anderston Old Churchyard in Heddle Place, St Mark’s Churchyard in Cheapside Street and North Street burial ground in Woodside. Anderson Old and St Mark’s were two of Glasgow’s Secession churches, formed in a movement which started in 1732 when a number of congregations broke away from the established Church of Scotland and set up individual Presbyterian churches, many of which had burial grounds attached
The oldest of these was the churchyard of Anderston Old Church, also known as Anderston Relief or Anderston United Presbyterian. Until 1770, the villagers of Anderston had to travel to Glasgow to worship in the Barony Church or one of the Dissenting churches. One James Monteith was a member of a Dissenting congregation in the the Havannah Church, off High Street and, following a disagreement with the church, he and some friends built their own Relief church in Anderston, the area’s first church. The building was surrounded by a graveyard and the first interment took place in 1770.
In the early nineteenth century, a constant threat to the peace of burial grounds was the work of the body snatchers. The Scottish medical schools of Glasgow, Edinburgh, St Andrew’s and Aberdeen had a constant need for material for the dissecting table, a need that was not fulfilled by legitimate sources. As a result, human cadavers changed hands under very questionable circumstances, with the burial grounds providing rich pickings for the so-called Resurrection Men.
One incident, on 17 March 1828, is connected with the Anderston Old burial ground, when the night watch disturbed four men nearby behaving suspiciously. The only one caught was an ex-grave digger, Henry Gillies, who had ‘previous’ for stealing grave furniture and who had been banned from Anderston after being observed at funerals checking the depth of the new graves.
Just before Henry was caught, he had abandoned the bodies of a poor elderly woman and a young child, Margaret McNeil. Margaret’s distressed mother attracted the sympathy of a wealthier woman, who offered to rebury Margaret in the lair of her own recently deceased child. Horrifyingly, when the lair was opened, it was found that her child had been taken too.
The churchyard was demolished in 1967. Burial registers are held in the Mitchell Library covering 1840-1892. The site was surveyed by the LDS in 1957 and a list of monumental inscriptions on micro-film is held by the Scottish Record Office. John F Mitchell compiled a survey (incomplete) from the original survey and this is held in the Mitchell Library.
[Image of Anderston Old UP Heddle Place courtesy of Glasgow Archives]