Lost Graveyards – Utterly Lost Burial Grounds

All the burial grounds described so far have left some trace behind, whether a burial list, a survey map or a mention in contemporary sources. But Glasgow has its own share of medieval burial grounds which usually come to light when developers move onto a site and discover remains.

One ancient burial ground has yet to be discovered. It is described by J F S Gordon in “Glasgow Ancient and Modern” as having been identified in Spoutmouth Wynd.

“On the left bank of the Molendinar Burn, in the Spoutmouth, there is a Place used as a burying ground for persons who died of the plague… There were three tiled or thatched houses which were used as a sort of hospital, where persons employed as Searchers or Cleansers resided; and the bodies of the dead were buried at the back of those houses.”

Greyfriars’ Convent and burial ground were recorded in existence in 1210, near the foot of Deanside Brae. J F S Gordon records the discovery of the graveyard.

“In 1820 when the Labourers were clearing out and levelling the Ground then an Orchard for the Grey Friars’ United Presbyterian Church in North Albion Street, about 250 to 300 Human Skeletons were discovered about 6 feet down, perfect and in good preservation, all apparently in the prime of life, about the same age, and buried at the same time, East and West. Their teeth were white, fresh, and entire in both jaws, and some 50 or 60 were so juvenile as to lack their “Wisdom Teeth”. Not a fragment of Coffins or Grave Clothes was to be found. One skull had a cut in the forehead 4 inches long. Very probably they had been slain in some skirmish. The circumstances do not admit that these skeletons could have been all monks of the Grey Friars’ Monastery, although thus buried in their Church-Yard.”

There is a possibility that the skeletons may relate to the legendary Battle of the Bell of the Brae which supposedly took place around 1297 between followers of William Wallace and the English garrison. Historians have however cast doubt on the existence of this event.

In 1246, Dominican monks (“Black Friars”) built a convent and church on the east side of the High Street. The Church of St Mary & St John and the burial ground were used by the staff and students of Glasgow University. J F S Gordon recorded the site as follows.

“It has, as yet, only two tombs in it. The ChurchYard abounds with tablets and once costly monuments – several indicating Armorial Bearings, but now crumbled away and undecipherable. At the north east corner overlooked by the windows of the Old Library are buried several professors whose graves are most shamefully tended. The whole aspect of this ‘Land of Oblivion’ – the broken metal railings and anti-resurrection cages – may well cause visitors to pray that they may not be deposited here.”

During the construction of The Saracen’s Head Inn in the Gallowgate in 1755, many human remains were found. J F S Gordon followed up with a story about the inn’s conversion around 1792.

“During the alterations… many broken fragments of Lettered Slate which covered the Dust of the Forgotten and Unknown were turned up, as also Heaps of Skulls.”

Little St Mungo’s (or St Kentigern’s) church-yard, outside the Gallowgate or East Port, was founded around 1500 and built over in 1754. The site moved J F S Gordon to write

“[This burial ground] was overgrown by rank grass and nettles; nearly hid amongst which, were a few narrow grey Stones, much encrusted with Fog, and deeply set in the earth, marking the Graves of the long departed.”

Nearby, on the south side of the Trongate, lay the St Mary and St Ann Churchyard, founded before 1560. The Tron (“St Mary’s”) was built on the site in 1793.

J F S Gordon identifies another lost burial ground, on the Common Moor north of the city, near what is now the St Rollox industrial and retail park. The Chapel of St Roche the Confessor was founded around 1508 by Thomas Muirhead, Canon of Glasgow, outside the Stable Green Port, and was still in existence in 1736.

“There was a cemetery attached to it which was used 1645-6 during the prevalence of the plague. The wall which surrounded the cemetery where many persons of distinction were buried was standing in 1736.”

The area now occupied by St Enoch Square was once a churchyard, in which stood a chapel dedicated to St Thenaw, mother of St Kentigern. It is not known when the chapel was build but it was recorded in the fifteenth century and destroyed during the reformation. Traces of its foundation were unearthed when St Enoch Square was being built.

There are likely to be more lost graveyards under the city which will doubtless come to light over the centuries. Meantime, my thanks go to June A Willing and J Scott Fairie for their most helpful publication, Burial Grounds in Glasgow: A Brief Guide for Genealogists.

[Image of The Saracen’s Head Inn courtesy of Glasgow Archives]

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