Five historical burial grounds are scattered around Edinburgh’s city center, oases amid the dense urban surroundings often full of students and tourists. Greyfriars Kirkyard, Canongate Kirkyard, St. Cuthberts Kirkyard, Old Calton Burial Ground, and New Calton Burial Ground form a collection of graveyards, with headstones of lawyers, poets, smiths, tailors, philosophers, and others that formed the fabric of Edinburgh’s society, that provide a window into the history, culture, and society of Scotland from the early seventeenth to late nineteenth centuries. Economist Adam Smith, poet Robert Fergusson, inventor Robert Stevenson, and philosopher David Hume rest among the city’s departed, testament to Edinburgh’s cultural and academic importance. Years of exposure to the elements, vandalism, and neglect have led to deterioration throughout the five graveyards. Headstones that have been removed or have become dislodged from the ground by the passage of time or by vandals now lie flat, decaying and eroding with each passing year. Graffiti and damage from vandals mar many monuments. Paths have become overgrown, dissuading visitors from entering the grounds that evoke such significant memories of the history and importance of Edinburgh in the development of the United Kingdom.
2010 World Monuments Watch
The five Edinburgh graveyards were included in the 2010 World Monuments Watch in order to emphasize that improved stewardship was needed at the sites, not just repairs and conservation to damaged monuments, in order to reintegrate them into the dynamic life of the city. In March 2011, with funding from the Paul Mellon Estate, Dr. Susan Buckham and a Yale University graduate student intern working for WMF Britain set out to study the graveyards’ historic relationship to the city and develop recommendations for the revitalization and sustainable management of the historic graveyards. Completed this past winter, the Edinburgh Graveyards Project included community outreach activities to better understand visitors’ relationship to the graveyards and encourage their involvement in the revitalization. WMF Britain, in collaboration with the Edinburgh World Heritage office, developed Find hidden treasures in five of Edinburgh’s World Heritage graveyards, a brochure introducing visitors to interesting but little-known facts about some of the monuments in the historic cemeteries. The project is now focused on developing a “friends of” group made up of local volunteers at Calton New Burial Ground to improve stewardship. It is hoped that this will be a catalyst for the development of groups at the other four graveyards.
The five historic cemeteries provide areas of retreat amidst the bustling urban center of Edinburgh. With burials from the early modern period to the late nineteenth century the grounds and monuments are important records of the city’s society, culture, and architectural styles.