Living Kirkyards in the Clyde and Avon Valleys
Graveyards capture a sense of place unlike any other historic site, outdoor museums teeming with life.
- Sarah Phillips, Built and Cultural Heritage Officer, Clyde and Avon Valley Landscape Partnership
"Graveyards capture a sense of place unlike any other historic sites. Wandering within their walls, visitors reading the richly detailed gravestone carvings and inscriptions are rewarded with glimpses of a day-to-day life long since lost. Today, these historic graveyards are also outdoor museums teeming with life from the fauna and flora which live there."
Over the past few months the Clyde and Avon Valley Landscape Partnership (CAVLP) has been working with graveyard specialist Dr Susan Buckham to develop a conservation strategy and action plan for rural, historic graveyards within the project boundaries. We think these are valuable places, both for their natural and cultural heritage, which need our care and attention.
In January, CAVLP commissioned Dr Susan Buckham, of Kirkyard Consulting with Fiona Fisher from the Strathclyde Building Preservation Trust to undertake a conservation strategy for our local kirkyards because,
"Although graveyards are often found in every community, actually we know surprisingly little about them," explains Susan Buckham. "Eight different graveyards have been surveyed as part of this project to identify interesting gravestones and buildings and the habitat, aesthetic and amenity values of their landscapes. Fieldwork also measures how well this important resource is faring against the effects of time, the elements and management issues. Studies like this help us better understand what’s unique and special about graveyards so that we can ensure their protection and promotion to a wide audience."
The burial grounds surveyed all have interesting aspects to focus on, from churchyards such as St. Ninian’s at Stonehouse to cemateries like the 1906 lawn cemetery, also at Stonehouse. There are small estate burials, such as Mauldslie and a pet cemetery at Dalzell. Glassford boasts a fine collection of 18th century gravestones, including one with a rare “Tree of Life” symbol carving, while Dalserf has a hogback stone, likely to date to the 10th or 11th century. We also have a World Heritage Site in our collection, as the non-denominational burial ground for New Lanark, one of our partners, is on our doorstep (yes, my office is in a World Heritage Site).
Where I get to come to work everyday – New Lanark World Heritage Site
Today, I am reviewing the final report and identifying initial actions from the plan to take forward to help achieve CAVLP’s overall aims and objectives. It really has provided me with a comprehensive plan to take forward, we may not be able to do everything identified but we can definitely add to our understanding of these valuable resources.
There has been a considerable amount of work done by different community groups on recording the graveyards in the area, in particularly Stonehouse Heritage Group for their local churchyard and Lanarkshire Family History Society. Some groups are interested in recording inscriptions; others have focused on the Covenanter graves in the area. Looking at the report, the first action will be matching information recorded to site plans, and filling in the gaps; include creating site plans for a few of the sites. A key element of this will be developing a full photographic record for each of the burial grounds.
Community involvement will be key in doing this and we hope to pull in individuals and groups already interested in the graveyards, as well as develop new interest in local communities. Our village network events allow us to chat to communities and hear what is important to them, and certainly the burial grounds are of interest but often people are not sure what they can do to help.
John Young, Stonehouse Heritage Group, providing an engaging tour of the churchyard.
A new aspect for me, as an archaeologist, is the importance of the kirkyards as “living”; places to encourage a diverse range of wildlife. There has been less information collected about this element of the sites, and so this has been a great opportunity to collaborate with my colleagues in the partnership on how we can involve volunteers and experts to undertake natural heritage surveys to begin to understand their importance as habitats for wildlife.
The report also suggests many ways we can promote this information to local communities through interpretation and events. We have already had one event, where Stonehouse Heritage Group provided a walking tour of the Stonehouse Kirkyard and a series of short talks from a range of speakers including Peder Aspen, a geologist who spoke about the issues of stone conservation and the Friends of Glasgow Necropolis about raising funds for their conservation work.
So today, will hopefully result in me moving forward on what we can do next. The passion and enthusiasm from our consultants has really brought these sites to life for me. I hope through the developing projects with communities we can do the same for others, and at the same time update and enhance the historic record for the CAVLP area.