HIGH on the hill next to Glasgow Cathedral, the Necropolis is an atmospheric site.

It has seen 50,000 burials since it opened in 1833. As well as the interment registers, the City Archives hold the financial and lair records for the cemetery, and the Merchants House Committee books, giving unique insight into the history and development of this famous graveyard. It passed into the care of the council in 1966 and has become a popular tourist attraction.

It’s the final resting place for many notable Glaswegians from publisher William Collins and philanthropist Isabella Ure Elder to the men killed in the 1960 Cheapside Street and 1972 Kilbirnie Street fires. Monuments include designs by Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson and Charles Rennie Macintosh. The first burial was Joseph Levi a jeweller, in the Jewish section, and burials of other faiths from Quakers to Catholics have followed.

The Merchants House of Glasgow purchased the rocky hill as part of the Wester Craigs lands in 1650, for the stone quarry on the estate. Fir trees were planted on the western grounds and the area became known as Fir Park. Later, elm trees and others were planted creating an arboretum and park. In 1825, the column and statue to John Knox, funded by public subscription, was added to the park’s summit as a centrepiece.

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Records show the Merchants House considered opening a new ‘garden’ cemetery at Fir Park from 1828. Future City Chamberlain John Strang wrote ‘Necropolis Glasguensis’ in 1831 in support of the idea, arguing that: “a garden cemetery and monumental decoration afford the most convincing tokens of a nation’s progress in civilization…”

The idea had a commercial aspect with profitable fees for plots, but there was a real need for more planned urban cemeteries. Glasgow’s ever-increasing population growth from the early 1800’s led to greater demands for burials, with poor housing and sanitation affecting morality rates too. Existing burial grounds were becoming massively overcrowded.

At the same time, the emerging middle class, profiting from Glasgow’s trade boom, wanted better sites for commemoration of their deceased. The fashion for elegant and ornate funerals and monuments reached its height in Victorian times.

The Necropolis was intended to be a beautiful and sanitary non-denominational cemetery, similar to Pere Lachaise in Paris. Its first superintendent was a garden landscaper, George Milyne. There were strict rules requiring plans for all monuments to be submitted for approval, fines for any visitors ‘interfering’ with plants, fences or tombs, and strictly no dogs or cattle permitted on the grounds! This careful design, and its 3500 eclectic monuments make the Glasgow Necropolis the stunning and historic site it is today.