At the turn of the nineteenth century, the Catholic population of Glasgow and its surrounding area grew rapidly with the arrival of many Irish people in search of work. Their numbers swelled in the 1850s with those leaving Ireland in the wake of the potato famine. St Mary’s Calton RC Church was opened to serve this growing new congregation in the city’s east end.
After St Andrew’s Cathedral (erected 1814-17), St Mary’s is the second oldest Catholic Church in Glasgow, completed in 1842. There were several brickworks in the area and the church was built on a clayfield. Locals joked that St Mary’s certainly wasn’t a Church built on rock! Designed by the London-based architects, Goldie and Child, it has a crypt containing the remains of two bishops and twelve priests, five of whom died during an epidemic of typhus in 1847.
The first interment had already taken place in 1839 in its churchyard (not to be confused with the Abercromby Street or Carlton Burial Ground) which lay to the north of the new church. The site was hemmed in on all sides by tenement buildings and entry was taken through a pend close.
In 1883, the Edinburgh Evening News reported on the desecration of a Glasgow Churchyard, when one Andrew Christie stole half a ton of iron railings from the burying ground surrounding St Mary’s Roman Catholic Chapel, a theft he committed “in a very bold matter”. The railings were recovered and the thief apprehended.
There are still some remnants of the churchyard today. A large headstone stands preserved on vacant land north of the church building, marking the site of a part of the burial ground which had been used for private burials – clergy, a few paupers and children from the Orphan House. Most of the remains were removed to allow for development, probably in the 1960s.
No burial registers or monumental inscription lists are known. Glasgow City Archives have a record of lair holders in 1870.