Piecing together the past
Volunteers help with the Dalzell kirkyard jigsaw
Work is underway to try to piece together some of the history hidden within Dalzell kirkyard. Kirkyard consultant Susan Buckham, along with volunteers from North Lanarkshire Council and Clydesdale Community Initiatives, braved the cold last week to make a start on an unusual jigsaw.
The work aims to reunite some of the damaged gravestones with their respective parts as well as make sure that each stone is next to the correct base, prior to any further work which may be done. Susan is attempting undertake a comprehensive survey of what she called “the most complex site I’ve ever worked on”. With centuries of history layered across the area, from early 20th century war graves, a plethora of 18th and 19th century stones, as well as potentially very ancient stonework adorning the walls, this is no simple task. Once the various parts of fallen and broken stones have been found it’s possible that some restoration and conservation work can begin, but this will take some time and the job is far from done.
Gavin McGregor, archaeologist and director at Northlight Heritage, was keen to talk to Susan about her findings. When he asked what the most interesting stone she had found was, Susan replied “hmm, that’s a bit like asking an archaeologist if they’ve found any gold”. There are just so many fascinating aspects which combine to make it special here.
It’s not any one individual detail which makes Dalzell the intreguing place that it is, it’s the rich tapestry all of its intricacies weave. There are examples which illustrate the progress of text styles over time. Rough and characterful 18th century stones which look like handwriting, some interesting examples of the use of Roman text, and even some of the stonemason’s signatures. There’s also an unusual lack of trade symbol stones, commonplace on 18th century stones, especially in this area. A pair of tailor’s scissors, and another with a tailor’s ‘goose’ (a pressing iron) are two of the very few which are apparent. It’s not just the stones themselves which are intriguing, but who lay beneath them. There are stones commemorating long-serving staff of Dalzell house, likely gifted lairs for their service. There are even stones commemorating the pets of the estate owners. One gravestone, rather appropriately, commemorates a local grave digger. The range of interesting aspects of the site paints a broad picture of time, not just of this little spot in the woods, but of the changing cultural and historical landscape around it.