As we approach Halloween we thought we’d take a look at some of Stirling’s spookiest spots; its historic graveyards.
Cemeteries and graveyards are excellent places to learn about the development and history of their surrounding areas, and can offer up a wealth of information for those interested in social history. In fact, some were even designed with tourists in mind.
Whilst going for a wander through an old graveyard may not be some people’s idea of a pleasant way to spend an afternoon, they have an important place in our cities as green spaces, and the monuments within them are protected and preserved, so are of interest to architecture nerds and social history enthusiasts alike.
Holy Rude Kirkyard
The Kirkyard which still surrounds the Church of the Holy Rude at the Top of the Town served as Stirling’s main burial ground until the 1850s. Apparently, the north side of the kirkyard was considered unfashionable, so the poor were buried here without gravemarkers. It’s strange to think that there are many more unmarked graves here than there are graves marked by stones or monuments.
Holy Rude Kirkyard contains a variety of styles and types of grave marker, including some very early gravestones from the 17th and 18th centuries. Keep a look out for carvings of skulls, winged sandglasses, and winged faces. These symbols reminded the graveside visitor how fleeting life is. The phrase ‘Memento Mori’ is also a common feature of these older stones, meaning ‘remember you must die’, a reminder that we are all mortal.
The Church of the Holy Rude and its surrounding Kirkyard.
By the 1850s Stirling’s population had boomed, and the Kirkyard of the Holy Rude was horribly overcrowded. A new graveyard had to be found for Stirling’s citizens, so the Valley Cemetery was opened in 1857 at the foot of Stirling Castle, but it soon outgrew this new location and was extended into the neighbouring Mar’s Wark Garden.
Similar to Edinburgh’s Dean Cemetery or Glasgow’s Necropolis, the Valley Cemetery was designed to be an attractive place to take a walk after visiting the Castle. There were paths for visitors, as well as statues, and the people buried there were wealthy enough to afford larger high-quality gravestones. An ornamental drinking fountain even supplied water to visitors, surrounded by 3 statues of important figures from the Presbyterian Church.
By 1888 the Valley Cemetery was almost full as Stirling’s population continued to grow so Ballengeich Cemetery was created after Mar’s Wark Garden quickly reached capacity. This cemetery’s design was plainer and more practical in comparison to the Valley Cemetery, as it has no additional statues or ornamental landscaping. As in Holy Rude Kirkyard, a large open area was also used to bury the poor in unmarked graves.
In 1915 Stirling Council purchased Snowdon House and its grounds (see image above), which they subsequently demolished to make space for Snowdon Cemetery. Only the boundary walls and part of the gate-house and gatepiers remain. Before it was demolished rumours had long circulated in Stirling that Snowdon House was haunted. Secret passages were also said to have linked the House to the Castle… but it was built in the 1820s so these rumours were probably false. Snowdon Cemetery opened in 1924 and is the most modern of Stirling’s historic graveyards, and it contains a number of graves from World War 2.
If you’d like advice on how to carry out research in historic graveyards, check out this Historic Environment Scotland publication, the PDF is free to download here.
For more information on the interesting gravestones in Holy Rude Kirkyard and the Valley Cemetery, known collectively as the Old Town Cemetery, click here.