East Church in Chapel Street, Airdrie was erected in the 1790s as a ‘Chapel of Ease’ for the Church of Scotland parish church in Glenmavis, to enable the older or infirm parishioners of Airdrie to worship in their own village. A burial ground was created about the same time and the earliest inscription is dated 1792.
Later, as the community grew, the chapel became the East Church, but by the 1850s ironstone workings undermined most of Airdrie town centre and the church was abandoned. The burial ground however continued in use.
In 1879, Airdrie Town Council expressed concern at “the condition of the graveyards within the Burgh”, which it believed were overcrowded and unhealthy. Burials were to be restricted to lair owners and their children, and no further interments are recorded after 1904.
In 1934 and following a number of traffic accidents in the area, the Town Council decided on a road widening scheme involving a strip of the old graveyard along Chapel Street. 788 bodies were removed to New Monklands cemetery at Ryden Mains, where a new space was alloted to each burial. The Burgh Engineer carried out the exhumations with military precision and rigour, recovering and transcribing 212 inscriptions including 69 coffin plates. His report is available at Airdrie Library.
During the works, the coffin of a child was unearthed by the side of the wall. The burial had taken place at a time when body snatching was a recurrent problem and the coffin was secured by iron bars to the foundations of the wall six feet below. If any attempt had been made to snatch the body, the precautions had clearly been successful, for the coffin was still intact.
In 1963, the Town Council agreed that the remainder of the burial ground should be converted into a carpark. During the course of the exhumation and transfer, however, it is believed that an outbreak of cholera occurrred. Apparently, the area had been used as a cholera pit during the late 1830s, a fact that had been overlooked when the exhumations began. The work was halted.
A metal plaque was placed on the low wall on Chapel Street referring to the incident but this was subsequently removed. When nearby flats were being constructed in the early 1970s, the area was left undisturbed. No record has been found of further exhumations after 1934 and it must be assumed that the remaining bodies lie under a grassy area in front of the Chapel Street flats.
The remaining headstones were relocated to Ryden Mains cemetery and transcriptions are available in the Discovery Room of Airdrie Library.
“The Churchyards of Airdrie M.I.s” pub. Lanarkshire FHS
“The Churchyards of Airdrie Burgh” pub. in “The Raddle”, the journal of the Monklands Heritage Society by ‘Lodger’
Facebook – New Monkland (Airdrie) – Back in time: 3 September 2021
[Featured OS map courtesy NLS]