Old Glasgow Club

Minutes of an Ordinary meeting of the Old Glasgow Club held at Adelaide’s, 209 Bath Street on Thursday 13th October 2011 at 7.30pm





Ms Sannachan (President)


Ms Sannachan welcomed everyone to the meeting and explained the fire regulations.


There were apologies from Sallie Marshall, Jane Collie, Brian Henderson and Joe Reid.


The minutes of the last ordinary meeting held on Thursday 8th September were approved, proposed by Karen Donaldson and seconded by Anna Forrest. There were no amendments or matters arising.

President’s report

Ms Sannachan commented on the great turnout tonight and welcomed visitors and new members.

Ms Sannachan announced that the summer trip in June 2012 was going to be on the Burns trail in Ayrshire with more details to follow in the Secretary’s Report.

Secretary’s report

Mrs McNae has made tonight’s agenda and last month’s minutes available to everyone.

On behalf of the Club, she would be obliged if any willing members could distribute leaflets around the city.

Mrs McNae stated that the 2012 Glasgow Calendar was on sale at the merchandising desk, priced £3.50. She also encouraged members and visitors to look at the noticeboard.

Mrs McNae added that she hoped everyone enjoyed Open Doors Day this year. She felt that there was a good variety of places to visit.

Mrs McNae has details of the Friends of Glasgow West AGM and information on the Carte Blanche AGM on Wed 19th October.

Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery will shortly be opening a gallery devoted to Glasgow Boy pieces after its successful exhibition in 2010. There is also an exhibition on ACDC until February, featuring the very different Glasgow Boys, Angus and Malcolm Young.

As mentioned previously the 2012 summer trip will be to Ayrshire to visit the new Burns Museum and associated sites. This will be on Saturday June 9th 2012. Anyone interested please register with Mrs Thom.

There will be a change to the scheduled speaker in November. Instead of Mr Graeme Smith speaking about the Alhambra Theatre we hope Dr Stuart McDonald will bring forward his talk “the Procurement of Cadavers by anatomists in early 19th Century Glasgow” from January. If this proves to be possible Mr Smith would now speak in January. All details will be confirmed on the website.


Ms Sannachan introduced Mr Nigel Willis  the subject of his talk being - “Glasgow Necropolis; the burial place of those that turned Glasgow into the Second City of the Empire.”

Mr Willis is the Chair of the Friends of Glasgow Necropolis (Scottish Charity No SC037918), an organisation formed in 2005 comprising a committee and members from a wide range of backgrounds whose aim is to conserve the Glasgow Necropolis. Their interests include: family history research, cemetery history, architecture and sculpture, architectural conservation, natural history and ecology, tourism and hospitality and economic development.

Mr Willis thanked the club for the opportunity to speak and encouraged members and visitors to the club to visit the Friends of Glasgow Necropolis website at www.glasgownecropolis.org/.

The early 1800’s saw Glasgow grow as a major industrialised city, with it came a new class of merchants and entrepreneurs who had made vast fortunes in tobacco, spices, coffee and cotton. By 1831 Glasgow’s population had trebled from 70,000 to more than 200,000. The city was flooded by immigrants, most notably Irish and Highlanders, many of whom arrived with little or nothing. The existing urban structure was inadequate and could not cope with the influx. The working classes suffered considerable conditions of deprivation, exacerbated by inadequate housing, dire poverty, poor sanitation and contaminated water supplies. This sudden dramatic increase in Glasgow’s population directly affected cemeteries since the poverty and squalor resulted in fierce epidemics of cholera and typhus. Growing concerns with hygiene and sanitation led to the opinion that burial in urban churchyards was now to be avoided.

In 1605 the Merchants House Guildry was formed heralding an era of great civic pride in the City. In 1650 the Merchants’ House bought part of the estate of Wester Craigs and used some of the land for quarrying. The remaining land was planted with fir trees and became known as Fir Park. In 1825 the foundation stone of the John Knox monument was laid in Fir Park and sculpted by the artist Robert Forrest. Excavations at the time found evidence of pre-Christian worship.

On 18th July 1828, a meeting was held in the Queen Street house of the Dean of Guild, James Ewing where a proposal was agreed to form a Necropolis, a City of the Dead, next to the Cathedral. John Strang, Chamberlain in the Merchants House was involved the design and creation of both the Necropolis Cemetery and the Bridge of Sighs across the Molendinar before it was culverted by Wishart St in 1877. The cemetery was laid out on the model of Pere-Lachaise in Paris. 50,000 burials have taken place at the Necropolis and most of 3,500 tombs have been constructed up to 14 feet deep, with stone walls and brick partitions. All names, dates, sex, cause of death and professions were recorded and are available in the Mitchell Library.

In 1966 the Merchants House gave the Necropolis to Glasgow Corporation (City Council) and donated £50,000 for its upkeep. Unfortunately the benches and ornate railings have been removed and most areas grassed for maintenance purposes, however the City Council is currently in negotiations with a view to restoring this magnificent cemetery to its previous grandeur. 

Mr Willis then conducted a tour through the Necropolis:

Glasgow architects David Hamilton (1768-1843) and his son, James Hamilton (1818-1861), was responsible for the Entrance Gates, the Cemetery Lodge, the Superintendent’s House, the Egyptian Vaults, and most notably the Bridge of Sighs. The main gates were made at the Phoenix foundry in 1838 and were restored in 2011. The emblem of the Merchant House (a globe and ship) is incorporated into the design.

Prior to crossing the Bridge of Sighs there are many memorials e.g. Korean War, Glasgow Victoria Cross recipients, Lord Kelvin. Once over the bridge the impressive façade of crypts were originally intended to lead into a complex network of tunnels to prevent body snatching however after a series of roof collapses the crypt is now an impressive lawnmower store.

There are many memorials in the grounds such as William Miller the writer of Wee Willie Winkie. Memorial stones range from simple tombstones to ornate carvings and have many examples of Victorian Symbolism such as broken pillars, winged hourglasses, skull and cross bones. The Necropolis is inter-denominational and the first burial in 1832 was of Joseph Levi.

Notable monuments/internments include

Corlinda Lee: “Queen of the Gypsies” who lived on New City Road and once read Queen Victorias palm.

Rev. Alex Beattie: minister at St Vincent Street Church whose memorial is designed by Alexander “Greek” Thomson.

William Motherwell: political activist and journalist.

James Jeffray:  Professor of Anatomy at Glasgow University. He was allegedly the inspiration for Doctor Frankenstein.

The Buchanan Sisters: Elizabeth, Jane and Margaret, of Bellfield Estate, Kilmarnock. The sisters were beautiful, unmarried and wealthy but spent their fortune, which is the current equivalent of £4m today, on improving the lives of the sick and poor especially of the name Buchanan. They supported many charities and individuals including a significant bequest for the building of a hospital in Glasgow, now known as the Royal Infirmary. This mausoleum, sculpted by Mossman has deteriorated substantially over the last one hundred and fifty years and requires £46,000 to restore it to its former glory. This year, The Friends of Glasgow Necropolis launched the first phase of the Public Appeal for £10,000 from donations from the general public and charitable organisations for the restoration of the Buchanan Sisters Mausoleum. (This target was reached on the 5th November 2011 and Phase 2 is now started).

James Ewing of Strathleven: Plantation owner and important city merchant and banker. One time Lord Provost and M. P. He is buried near to the statue of John Knox to reflect his importance in society.

Charles Tennant: Weaver who discovered a bleaching powder which transformed the cotton industry. Forefather of the Tennants of Mustique.

William Rae Wilson: Author of travel books.

Alexander Allan: Founder of the Allan steam ship line.

Walter MacFarlane: Founder of the Saracen Foundry.

James Merry: Successful race horse owner.

John Templeton: Carpet factory owner.

John Alexander Blackie: Son of Walter Blackie, Publisher.

Major Archibald Monteath: East India Company Stalwart.

Hugh and Charles Tennent: Brewing magnates.

William Doleman: Golfer.

John Alexander: Director of Theatre Royal, Dunlop St.

William H. Minnoch: Fiance of Madelaine Smith.

Charles Fry: First bandmaster of the Salvation Army.

Humphrey Crum Ewing: Demerara sugar magnate (also Mr Willis’s grandfather).

Mr Willis then showed a short film about the wildlife in the Necropolis then answered questions from the floor

Q. The internet records held by the City Council are quite expensive to look up at £62. Will this change?

A. Mr Willis explained that the records are currently being scanned by the Mitchell Library with the current estimate standing at 3,000 in the system. It is a long and laborious process to digitise hand written records and photographs which is why it takes so long. Also since it is a voluntary scheme there are not enough people to help.

Q. There seem to be a large number of wealthy Glaswegians buried in Cathcart in the late 19th/early 20th century who have no obvious links to the area. Any idea why?

A. No. Perhaps they just lived in the catchment area.

Q. How safe is the Necropolis to visit?

A. Safety has improved over the last few years due to increased visitor numbers. Common sense dictates not to walk around isolated areas on your own. Mr Willis encourages people to visit in a guided tour. Vandals are still present but there have been no reported attacks this year. It’s important just to be sensible and visible.

Q. How many Friends of Glasgow Necropolis are there?

A. 90 at the last count. Last year there were over 1,000 visitors, with many repeat visits. No two tours are the same. To arrange a tour contact the website. Tours are limited to 30 people and most are fully booked so call early. There is no charge but donations would be most welcome and will

go directly into the Buchanan Sisters Appeal.


Vote of Thanks

Mr Sam Gordon thanked Mr Willis on his interesting and enlightening talk. He remarked that this was probably just a fragment of all the interesting stories buried in the Necropolis and commented that perhaps another tour could be organised for members. Mr Willis was presented with a selection of merchandise and a year’s membership. Mr Willis stated that he would donate his fee for the talk to the Buchanan Crypt restoration fund.


The Quiz was won by Rosemary Sannachan who correctly identified the plaque commemorating Dr John MacDonald, former Prime Minister of Canada which is found in the Ramshorn Kirk, Ingram St.



Next Directors Meeting- Thursday 3rd November 2011

Next Ordinary MeetingThursday 10th November 2011

Ms Sannachan wished all a safe journey home.


P Cairns, Recording Secretary.