Finding Something to do in Glasgow
Edinburgh and Glasgow have a thing. One of the first things you learn when you land in Scotland is that you’re either a Glasgow or an Edinburgh fan. Also, tempers can flare if you voice the wrong opinion when you’re out with people. Having moved to Edinburgh, I absorbed some of the prejudices on that front. (Remembering, of course, that it’s all in good fun.)
When I sat down to look for things to do in Glasgow, one of the results that popped up was a walk through the Necropolis.
Naturally, the new Edinburgh-camp recruit in me immediately snorted at the idea of walking around a cemetery on my day off. The person in me kind of balked at turning dead people into a tourist attraction. But, as so often happens in my life, curiosity got the best of me.
I went for a walk around the Necropolis. As it turns out, it was quite a nice place to go for a walk.
Repurposing a Park
The Glasgow Necropolis hasn’t always been a cemetery. It used to be a park, situated just outside the city, where Glaswegians could go for a stroll of an afternoon. Because there were many fir trees, it was called Fir Park. Sadly, all the fir trees in the park died off, and the name no longer applied. Various types of trees replaced the firs, but it still needed a new name.
A New Fashion
In the 19th century, a new fashion came over from France: Grand cemeteries. After the Parisians built themselves a great big cemetery, the people of Britain decided they should follow suit. To be honest, it wasn’t just a matter of fashion. Before the 1830s, local churches were responsible for burying all of the dead in their parishes. This meant that they had to foot the bill for the burial.
However, in the 19th century, people weren’t going to church as often as they had in the past. Occasionally, disputes arose over which church was responsible for burying a person. The solution was to establish a public cemetery where anyone could be buried.
At the time, Glasgow was a rapidly expanding city with a larger and larger number of industrial workers, meaning that there were more people who could only afford very simple funerals. The city leaders decided that it would be beneficial to designate a burial area outside the city. They decided that the old Fir Park would be a perfect spot.
Thus, the Necropolis was born.
Near to St. Mungo
The Necropolis sits on a hill nearby St. Mungo’s Cathedral. The original plan was to build catacombs into the hill in order to accommodate a large number of burials. Construction on the catacombs, but another cemetery opened in the south of the city. So, the catacomb idea became unnecessary.
Even so, somewhere in the ballpark of 50,000 people have been buried in the Necropolis. Roughly 3,500 tombs mark their spots.
Speaking of tombs, the memorials in the Necropolis have a culture all of their own. A large number of people could only afford simple burials in the Necropolis. Nevertheless, there are also extravagantly rich people with tombs there. These people had elaborate tombs, memorials, and mausoleums built for themselves. To this day, there are tours through the Necropolis which show you the grandest and wildest of these tombs.
There’s also a conspiracy theory floating around about the Freemasons. They were in charge of all the stonework in the cemetery. Some people claim that they constructed the site as one of their super-secret ritual locales. The evidence of this is that there are symbols of the Freemasons scattered about the site. Some argue, however, that there were just a bunch of Freemasons buried there.
So if you’re looking for a good place to take a constitutional in Glasgow, take a gander at the Necropolis.
Visiting the Necropolis:
Getting there: The best way to get to the Necropolis is to take public transport to St. Mungo’s Cathedral, and then walk. The entrance is over a footbridge, which you’ll be able to see from the main entrance to the cathedral.
Opening hours: The Necropolis is open from 7:00 to 4:30 daily.
Admission: Entry to the Necropolis is free! Whether you’re just popping in for a looksie or are taking the Friends of the Glasgow Necropolis walking tour, there’s no charge. (Please pre-book for the tours, though – click here to see the Necropolis walking tour schedule.)