IT IS a gruesome part of Glasgow’s history – but it may have inspired one of the most famous novels of all time…

When the Anatomy Act of 1832 was passed, only bodies of murderers from the gallows were allowed to be used for anatomical research at Glasgow University.

The body of weaver Matthew Clydesdale, hanged for beating 80-year-old miner Alexander Lowe to death in a drunken rage, was sent to Dr James Jeffray of Cardowan, an eminent lecturer at the University.

A sensational version of the events that followed claims that Jeffray’s experiments with electric shocks caused Clydesdale’s body to come to life – his limbs twitched violently, his face contorted and his chest heaved - only for the good doctor, thoroughly alarmed, to stab him through the neck with a scalpel.

It is said Mary Shelley, who is known to have attended anatomy lessons in many places, may have been at this one, giving her the idea for Frankenstein, in which corpses are animated and brought back to life by electricity…

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The real story is probably much less dramatic – Jeffray – whose memorial stands in the Necropolis - and Andrew Ure, of the Anderson Institute (the forerunner of Strathclyde University) – are more likely to have caused involuntary movements in the dead body with their ‘galvanic experiments’. But it would have been enough to make shocked onlookers’ hair stand on end at any rate…

The Necropolis, situated atop a hill near Glasgow Cathedral, is one of the city’s most famous burial grounds. But it is not the oldest.

Lynsey Green, archivist with Glasgow City Archives, explains: “Before the Necropolis, there were many churchyards in and around the city, including Calton Burying Ground and Gorbals Burial Ground.

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“One of the earliest burial records we hold is a lair register for Gorbals Burial Ground dating from 1722.

“The Necropolis officially opened in April 1833. Our records include profession, sex, age and cause of death - of the 50,000 internments only around 3500 have tombs.”

While libraries remain closed, Lynsey and her colleagues - Barbara Neilson, Michael Gallagher, senior archivist Irene O’Brien and Nerys Tunnicliffe – are running Ask the Archivist, which gives people the chance to ask questions about the city collections. More details are available on the Glasgow City Archives Facebook page.

“Local authorities have only been responsible for cemeteries since the late 19th century,” says Lynsey. “From medieval times, the burial of the dead was almost exclusively in local churchyards and funerals were handled by the community, with no religious presence.

“But by the early 1900s, churchyard burial had become a public health concern in Glasgow following population growth and outbreaks of typhus and cholera.”

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Glasgow is also home to Scotland’s oldest crematorium, as Lynsey explains.

“Cremation was rarely used in Scotland,” she says.

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“In 1893, the Scottish Burial Reform and Cremation Society purchased the land that is now the Western Necropolis and built Glasgow Crematorium (also known as Maryhill/Lambhill Crematorium).

“It is the oldest in Scotland and the third oldest in the UK after Woking and Manchester.”