SINCE its very first burial – the infant daughter of Archibald Cochran, on July 21, 1840 – it is estimated that around a quarter of a million people have been laid to rest at the Southern Necropolis.

Its records, which date all the way back to that first burial, are held at Glasgow City Archives in the Mitchell Library.

The area around the cemetery has changed considerably, but the graveyard itself, with its grand gatehouse entrance, remains a peaceful resting place within a bustling city.Glasgow Times: Lair Certificate for David Tannahill, Lair No 531, Southern Necropolis. 23 Apr, 1844Lair Certificate for David Tannahill, Lair No 531, Southern Necropolis. 23 Apr, 1844 (Image: Glasgow City Archives)

By the 1840s, the Gorbals had grown from a small village to a busy centre housing many workers from the Govan Ironworks (aka Dixon’s Blazes) and other nearby factories and mills.

Grand residential schemes had been developed with carefully designed wide streets, fitting for middle and merchant classes: Hutchesontown, by the Hutcheson’s Trustees, and Laurieston, by James Laurie.

Glasgow Times: Hutchesontown c1957, before the demolition of many tenementsHutchesontown c1957, before the demolition of many tenements (Image: Glasgow City Archives)

However, the genteel classes stayed away, put off by the closeness of neighbouring Govanhill with its industrial works, and the once independent burgh took on a more working class and commercial character.

The Old Gorbals Cemetery, along Rutherglen Road, set up in 1715 by the local feuars (or landowners) had been fine for a small village community, but as the area’s population grew, the cemetery had become notorious for its poor and overcrowded state.

Glasgow Times: Tower blocks being erected near the Southern Necropolis c 1962Tower blocks being erected near the Southern Necropolis c 1962 (Image: Glasgow City Archives)

In fairness, by the mid-1800s, all of Glasgow’s cemeteries were struggling with the increase in the city’s population and consequences of diseases such as the cholera outbreak of 1832.

Appalling sanitation and overcrowded slums sadly meant demand for burial places was high. In 1826 there were more than 1130 burials within Old Gorbals Cemetery, and concerns about public health were raised.

Previously, smallpox epidemics leading to mass burials within the cemetery had caused huge outcry and alarm. The once largely rural cemetery was now in close proximity to residential and business properties as development had spread outwards from what had been the village centre.

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 A public meeting was held at the Gorbals’ Baronial Hall on November 15, 1839, where it was proposed that the best way to tackle the issue was to create a new cemetery. It was hoped that the new cemetery would be subject to better regulation and planning, as well as affordable lairs (or plots) for even the Gorbals’ poorest inhabitants. The scheme was approved at a second meeting on February 27, 1840, and a committee set up to help establish the new cemetery.

Glasgow Times: The first page of the Southern Necropolis register of burials, 1840The first page of the Southern Necropolis register of burials, 1840 (Image: Glasgow City Archives)

Land from the nearby estate of Little Govan was purchased for the cemetery. Originally, seven acres were bought from local merchant William Gilmour. This original purchase makes up the central section of today’s Southern Necropolis and was once part of the Little Govan estate. Demand was such, that by 1846, no more lairs were available and so more land was purchased to create the eastern section. The Southern Necropolis was further extended in 1847 and 1850 forming its western section.

The size of lairs determined their cost with the smallest plot, seven feet by three feet, being one pound and one shilling, and the largest (ten and a half feet by seven and half feet), being nine pounds.

Renowned Glasgow architect Charles Wilson designed the Southern Necropolis Gatehouse in 1848. Although unsigned, we hold a series of sketches of the gateway at the Archives, apparently drafts by Wilson.

Glasgow Times: Plans for the Gatehouse, unsigned, but believed to be by architect Charles WilsonPlans for the Gatehouse, unsigned, but believed to be by architect Charles Wilson (Image: Glasgow City Archives)

When Wilson died in 1863 he was, of course, laid to rest at the Southern Necropolis.

Other notables buried at the Southern Necropolis include Gorbals born self-made millionaire Sir Thomas Lipton (of Lipton’s Tea fame); John Begg, nephew of poet Robert Burns; Allan Glen, who founded Allen Glen’s boys school; architect Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson, who is still famous for his distinctive classic style; and local blind street musician Wee Willie Whyte, who gained popularity for his street entertainments in the city centre.

There was even a rumour of a vampire living in the cemetery, causing mass hunts by local school children in 1954, but no records confirming the vampire’s existence have ever been uncovered.