The North Street burial ground (also known as North and South Woodside) was opened in 1821 and was the last resting place of many old Partick families. It lay about 100 yards from Anderston Cross, and was accessed from the east side of North Street.
In 1849, the Glasgow Herald revealed a dangerous management practice in several Glasgow cemeteries, including North Street. Deep pits were dug for pauper burials and left open until a number of interments had taken place. The newspaper reported on 5th February as follows.
“The recent public disclosure regarding the overcrowding of the places of interment in the eastern part of the city have had an effect at once and of their own free will of inducing the proprietors of the grounds in North Street, Anderston to discontinue the system of pit or pauper burial. The pauper interment in Bridgeton and Calton have been entirely discontinued and the interments in the common grounds in St Mary’s Abercromby Street have been abolished – all the bodies being buried in single graves and at the ordinary depth.”
The practice of opening pits for paupers’ mass burials was not confined to Glasgow. The Lancashire Gazette and General Advertiser of 16 September 1838 ran a story about a London pit burial resulting in the deaths of two grave diggers, overcome by deadly gases from the excavations.
Despite the cessation of pit burials, concern continued over the condition of inner city cemeteries. That geographical encyclopaedia of nineteenth century Scotland, the Ordnance Gazeteer of Scotland (1883) recorded
“In a report furnished in 1869… it was recommended that, except in very special cases, the intramural cemeteries of St David’s; College; North Street and Main Street, Anderston; Cheapside Street, Anderston; Calton; Bridgeton; Rutherglen Loan, Gorbals; St, Mungo’s Cathedral; Abercromby Street, Roman Catholic; Christchurch, Mile End; Greendyke Street; and Wellington Street should no longer be used. The interments in those have fallen… to 60 last year.”
The inner city burial grounds, including the three Anderston burial grounds were closed by order of the Sheriff on 7 May 1870, under the Public Health (Scotland) Act 1867. They remained open for burial of existing lair holders and some burials continued to take place after this date. The final burials in North Street probably took place at the end of the nineteeth century.
The end of the North Street burial ground came with the decision to build the Kingston Bridge and to drive a motorway through the district of Anderston. When the disinterment was due to take place, relatives and descendants were offered the chance to claim the headstones. Out of hundreds of potentially interested parties, only six stones were reclaimed. One of these belonged to Alexander Findlater, supervisor of excise and friend of Robert Burns. The Sandyford Burns Club erected a memorial to him in the Linn Cemetery to where his remains were transferred. Remains of other burials were later transported to the Linn Cemetery (Sections 22 & 26) for reburial. But the exercise may have been less than complete.
A local resident recalled
“I lived in Anderston at the time the North Street cemetery was bulldozed and don’t believe all the bodies were removed. In those days of health & safety taking a poor second place to company consideration, the public and especially young kids going home from school would walk through the construction site if it was on their way home.
I have spoken to other people who lived in Anderston at the time and we are all in agreement that when coffins were sticking out of the soil the bulldozers would ram them back into the ground. The ‘walls’ of earth were all eventually covered in concrete.”
The concrete now forms the path of the motorway and its slip roads, directly to the north of the ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ footbridge. Tens of thousands of vehicles now trundle over what is potentially still the resting place of Anderston’s forgotten citizens. Have a look at the Project Glasgow Facebook post for more information.
Burial registers for 1830-54 and 1874-1916 are held in the Mitchell Library.
[The photo shows North Street, Glasgow in 1968, looking towards Anderston and is courtesy of Glasgow Archives.]