|Three views of the modern part of the cemetery|
Note: This article owes much to old local histories that are now out of copyright; the author is particularly indebted to the Second Series of George Williamson's "Old Greenock" – see the References – and has, for that reason, opted to put the following text into the public domain. However, the accompanying images are not in the public domain, but are licensed under different terms, as explained at the end of the article.
rebuilt in its present location.
The history of the Old West Kirk itself is not discussed in this article, but see the leftmost picture in the second row, below, for a summary.
The Old West Kirkyard became overcrowded fairly early in its history, and was extended in 1657, when, with the Laird of Greenock's consent, a strip of land, 7 ells in breadth, was added to its western side. In 1721, Sir John Shaw gifted another piece of ground, again to be added to the western side of the kirkyard, taking its total area to a little under one Scots acre.
Nevertheless, by the 1770s, as a result of the increase in population, there was a demand for additional ground. An application was made in 1773 by Bailie Gammell for a further extension to the Kirkyard; however, the feudal superior, Sir Michael Stewart, objected to this proposal, and a lengthy legal dispute followed, which was eventually taken to the House of Lords. A compromise was finally reached in 1786, when Stewart feued, for use as a burial ground, some land elsewhere in Greenock.
NS27387615. It was described at the time as "being the north-east corner of that enclosure possessed by James Bartholomew, Flesher in Greenock", and it measured 3 roods, 3 falls, and 3 feet. Part of it was to be designated a common burial ground for the poor.
For its first few years, the Inverkip Street Burial Ground would have appeared very flat; apart from the lair markers set into the walls, no upright stones were allowed. The reason given was that they would impede access: in the words of the original Feu Contract, "no head stones were to be erected on the graves or burying-places so as to interrupt the free passage to the ground".
Many of the leading citizens of the day were interred here. Applications for lairs were to be made to Mr Wilson, Depute Treasurer. The first to apply was Bailie John Kippen, whose stone is illustrated below, followed by Bailies Anderson, Fullarton, and Robertson. The novelist John Galt, who was born in Ayrshire, but whose family moved to Greenock when he was young, is also buried here, as is pointed out on a plaque beside the entrance of the burial ground.
Because of the growing population of Greenock, the need for further land soon arose.
Later on, Duncan Street was levelled, but the resulting road surface was considerably lower than before. The Duncan Street entrance, now too high above street level for use, was blocked off. To allow continued access to the burial ground, an opening was made in the wall between this ground and the one on Inverkip Street; that opening is still in use. These features are shown below, along with selected memorials.
The Duncan Street burial ground was heavily used when Greenock experienced an outbreak of cholera in 1832. Over a thousand burials of cholera patients took place in that year; the resulting mound took a long time to subside. This was one of the factors that led to this new burial ground, in turn, becoming overcrowded; in 1859, it was closed up, under the terms of the Burial Grounds (Scotland) Act, 1855, being seen by that time as a health hazard and "offensive to decency". The pressing need for additional space remained.
Shortly thereafter, measures were being taken locally to address the need, with the initiative being taken by Bailie John Gray. On the 26th of December, 1845, he read a report to Greenock's town council and water trustees. (In addition to his role as a town councillor, John Gray was a senior partner in the firm of Gray & Roxburgh's, shipping agents; in 1842, a wooden vessel called "John Gray" was built for the firm by Thomson & Spiers of Cartsdyke).
The report read by Gray was on the state of the town's burial grounds. It was written by Mr Stewart Murray, who was born in 1792 in Aberdeenshire; he was the first person to hold the post of Curator of Glasgow's Botanic Gardens, a role to which he was appointed in 1817. He was involved in laying out Paisley's Woodside Cemetery (1845), Dumbarton Cemetery (1854), Glasgow's Sighthill Cemetery (1840), and the Glasgow Necropolis (1833). (Note that Dumbarton Cemetery is the subject of an article of its own.)
|Woodside Cemetery||Dumbarton Cemetery||Sighthill Cemetery||Glasgow Necropolis|
The report is set out in detail in an appendix to the Second Series of George Williamson's "Old Greenock" (see References). It called for necessary maintenance to be carried out on the Inverkip and Duncan Street sites (their areas were given as 123 falls and 102 falls, respectively). One objection to their continued use was the fact that these grounds were now surrounded by buildings, and the site was considered a health hazard to their inhabitants. Another was the overcrowding of the site, best seen by the fact that the numerous interments had raised the ground three or four feet above its original level (see above, on the cholera outbreak of 1832).
The first of these sites was Crow Mount, simply called the Mount in popular usage (and in Mr Murray's report). This circular mound was centred on c. NS27717582 (which is now in Mearns Terrace). An advantage of this location was that it was already wooded (the trees attracted crows, a fact that probably accounts for the site's name). A disadvantage was that it was rather close to the built-up parts of the town.
The second site, Prospect Hill, was not far to the west of the Mount. Here, Andrew Lindsay of the Cotton Mill Company had built a villa called Prospecthill House; now long gone, the villa was located at c. NS27367564, near what is now the junction of Prospecthill Street (named after the villa) and Mill Street.
A disadvantage of the Prospect Hill site was that it was very close to the town's water filters. Old OS maps show "Shaw's Water Filters" at c. NS27397574 (at the time of writing, the outline of these structures is still clearly discernible on satellite imagery, in a grassy area just to the south-west of the junction of Dempster Street and Togo Place). Prospecthill House was only about 100 metres to the SSW of the water filters.
Another site, the one that appeared to be most suitable, was "bounded by the Bow Farm on the west and the Innerkip Road on the south" (Innerkip Road: earlier spelling for present-day Inverkip Road). Plans to create a new cemetery on that site proved to be acceptable to the council.
|(left)–(right) Gabriel Wood's Mariners' Home|
By the autumn of 1846, the new cemetery had been laid out, under the superintendence of Mr Murray. In a letter dated 5th October, 1846, Murray says that the Cemetery "has been completed to my entire satisfaction". Some additions were made to the original plan: a few acres of additional ground had been acquired "to secure the summit of the hill, thereby allowing a carriage drive all around"; in addition, the boundary wall, which was originally to have been made of wood, was built of stone instead (the additional expense incurred would be offset, in time, by the higher value of tombs alongside the wall).
Early newspaper reports referred to the new cemetery as "the Necropolis". Although the term was considered unobjectionable elsewhere, Sir Michael Robert Shaw Stewart and his wife, Lady Octavia, objected to what they felt was a "heathen" title; their view was that it did not sufficiently reflect the Christian hope of the resurrection. The town council therefore decided that the new burial ground would simply be called the Cemetery.
In 1848, not long after Greenock Cemetery came into use, its superintendent was Peter Clark, a former gardener to John Gray.
The 31 hectares (about 12 acres) of land occupied by the cemetery are set on what had formerly been known as the Bow Hill. The main entrance of the cemetery is located beside what was formerly the site of Brachelston Toll; nearby, beside a burn, was Brachelston Mill.
A crematorium is located within the grounds of the cemetery. There is also a small building called the Ivy House, which was moved here from the Wellpark in 1852.
|(left, middle) Greenock Crematorium|
(right) The Ivy House, a former doocot
photographs of Greenock Cemetery. The "Greenock Cemetery Walks" booklet, listed in the References section below, proved to be very useful in locating sites of interest, and it provides further details about them. Information about each of the memorials shown below can also be found by clicking on their individual photographs.
First of all, it is worth noting that when the Old West Kirk was moved to its present site, many of the ancient gravestones from the Old West Kirkyard were transferred to a plot within Greenock Cemetery:
|(left) Enclosure containing the old gravestones|
(right) One of the old gravestones
One of the best-known memorials in the cemetery is that of Highland Mary, whose remains were likewise moved here from the Old West Kirkyard. The former site of the Old West Kirkyard is still marked; compare views of it in 2007 and 2019. Next to Highland Mary's Memorial is the Watt Cairn, commemorating the engineer James Watt. Although the memorial is interesting in itself, its original conception was far grander (see the description accompanying the photograph):
|(left) Highland Mary Monument|
(middle) The monument's setting
(right) The site of the house where she died
|(left) Her remains were re-interred here in 1920|
(middle) Highland Mary's relatives
(right) The Watt Cairn
Three plots within the cemetery were set aside for Sir Gabriel Wood's Mariners' Home (described earlier in this article). Adam MacKay, who was House Governor of the Home for about twenty years, is also buried in the cemetery:
|(left) One of the plots|
(middle) Another of the plots
(right) Adam MacKay
The high ground of the cemetery is occupied by a memorial to Robert Wallace of Kelly, Greenock's first Member of Parliament (1832-45), who played an important role in bringing about reform of the postal service. Robert Baine was Greenock's first Provost (1833-34). Walter Baine was another of the town's early Provosts (1840-44), and he succeeded Wallace as MP for Greenock (1845-47):
|(left) Robert Wallace|
(middle) Robert Baine
(right) Walter Baine
The Scott family were very prominent in the local shipbuilding industry. Walter Robert Kinipple carried out several important engineering works at Greenock Harbour. The timber merchant James McLean founded the McLean Museum and Art Gallery:
|(left) Scott family burial ground|
(middle) Kinipple family memorial
(right) James McLean
Captain Donald Brotchie was active in the Temperance Movement, and was a hardworking seamen's missionary. Thomas Fairrie did much for the cause of education in Greenock. Abram Lyle, shipowner and sugar refiner, was Provost of Greenock from 1876-79, and is remembered in the names of Lyle Road and the Lyle Fountain:
|(left) Captain Donald Brotchie|
(middle) Thomas Fairrie
(right) Abram Lyle
The only mausoleum in the cemetery is that of Dame Frances Caroline Cameron. The brief naval career of Neil Dougall ended when he was badly injured in an accidental explosion, but he later prospered as a teacher and composer of music. The design of George Maskell's memorial reflects his involvement with the world of theatre:
|(left) Dame Frances Caroline Cameron|
(middle) Neil Dougall
(right) George Maskell
Among those commemorated by the Carmichael family memorial is Sir Duncan Carmichael, a shipping agent and a director of P&O. The memorial to John Barr Cumming, Lloyds Surveyor of Shipping, features allegorical figures representing his trade; it was carved by local sculptor Charles Stevenson:
|(left) Sir Duncan Carmichael|
(right) John Barr Cumming
The obelisk commemorating the joiner and builder James Black is also richly decorated. Prominent among those commemorated by the Bowers family memorial is Henry Robertson Bowers, who was much better known by his nickname, Birdie Bowers. The house where he was born in Greenock is marked by a plaque. He accompanied Captain Robert Scott on the ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition to the South Pole, and he was one of only two men who were with Scott at the end:
|(left) James Black|
(right) Henry Robertson Bowers
Memorials with Gothic details mark the burial place of Stewart and Robert Neill, and of the family of Peter Warden. A Celtic cross commemorates James Morton (Provost of Greenock from 1868-71) and his family:
|(left) The Neill Memorial|
(middle) The Warden Memorial
(right) Provost Morton
A burial ground was purchased here for the Working Boys' Home. A sarcophagus commemorates a doctor, Walter Washington Buchanan, whose family were close to that of General (and future President) George Washington. A Dumbarton steam-boat captain, James Lang, who was buried at Dumbarton, is the first person named in the inscription of a memorial that primarily commemorates his wife's family, the MacCallums, who were iron merchants here in Greenock:
|(left) For the Working Boys' Home|
(middle) Walter Washington Buchanan, M.D.
(right) Lang/MacCallum Memorial
Near the enclosure that contains stones from the original site of the Old West Kirk (see above), there is a memorial for sailors and soldiers who died in the First World War. Another memorial, beside the main driveway leading into the cemetery, commemorates the citizens of Greenock who died during the air raids on the town (including the Greenock Blitz of May, 1941):
|(left) For the sailors and soldiers of the First World War|
(middle) For those killed in the air raids on Greenock
(right) Another view of the memorial
- A booklet called "Greenock Cemetery Walks" (created by East End Advisory, funded by Inverclyde Council) includes a map, and gives details of upwards of fifty of the memorials. Although space does not allow for it to give more than brief details for each memorial, the booklet proved invaluable to me in seeking out items of interest. The original version of the booklet described only Greenock Cemetery, but later versions also discussed the Inverkip Street and Duncan Street burial grounds. At the time of writing, this booklet was available online (PDF).
- George Williamson's "Old Greenock: Embracing Sketches of its Ecclesiastical, Educational, and Literary History" (Second Series, 1888) gives a valuable account of all of the burial grounds mentioned in this article. It also includes, in one of its appendices, the text of Stewart Murray's report, in which the state of the Inverkip and Duncan Street Burial Ground is assessed, and in which the merits of several possible new sites are discussed, including the one on which Greenock Cemetery was later built. This book was the primary source for the present article, and I recommend it for further reading.
- George Williamson's "Old Greenock from the earliest times ..." (1886) has little on the burial grounds, but is, like the other work just cited, a very good reference for the places, people, and history of this time period.
- Robert Murray Smith's "History of Greenock" (1921) and Daniel Weir's "History of the town of Greenock" (1829) provide some additional details.
- The "Post-Office Greenock Directory for 1849-50" is not an obvious source, but it contains, in pages 48-49 of its appendix, a very brief but helpful summary of the creation of the new cemetery; it also gives the names of the staff associated with it at the time of publication. Other local registers and directories provided information on businesses and individuals.
- Margaret Cox: "Grave Concerns: death and burial in England 1700-1850" mentions, briefly, the creation of the Greenock Cemetery Company (giving details of the publication of its prospectus), and the ill-will that was generated as a result.
- BMD Records: intimation records (births, marriages and deaths) held by Inverclyde Council; some may be found online. They are useful for checking dates and family relationships, but also often give the place of death, and references to obituaries that appeared in the Greenock Advertiser.
- "Views and Reminiscences of Old Greenock" (1891), on the Mount (or Crow Mount); the book contains an illustration of it.
- Last, but not least, the Watt Monument Library has a very fine collection of old books covering the history of this area.