I recently took a day trip to Glasgow with my eldest daughter. Our introduction to Glasgow started before we’d even left Edinburgh ,as we met a Scottish man on the train who’d emigrated to Sweden and was home for Christmas. We got chatting, as you do, and he swiftly informed us Glasgow used to be a melting pot of poverty and gang warfare and although it wasn’t as bad as it had been, it was still the worst city in Scotland and not a patch on Edinburgh. He then went on to tell us about the problems of Sweden ( mass migration, death of the cash economy and Brexit, apparently) and to sing the praises of Wetherspoons for selling a steak and a pint for a tenner. So sat on the train, coffees in hand, our trip was off to a lively start. But it was actually a celebration of death drawing us to Scotland’s so-called second city as we were headed to Glasgow Cathedral and the adjoining Necropolis.
I am an unashamed Tombstone Tourist. I love a good graveyard. And I’m not alone, tourism centred around cemeteries is on the rise. Graveyards represent more than a final resting place these days. They are green spaces, havens for nature, keepers of history and interesting facts. Given that the Necropolis today covers 37 acres, it ticks all of those boxes and on a grand scale.
The cemetery is accessed from the cathedral via a bridge and the view of the elaborate tombstones and monument climbing the hill as you walk across is quite something. At the top of the Necropolis, tombs have been blasted out of the rock face. Although the area looks vast, the tombs on show actually only represent a small number of those buried here. This Victorian garden cemetery is a celebration of life and death on a grand scale. Well, you wouldn’t expect anything less given that Queen Victoria herself turned mourning into an art form.
The Necropolis is home to some amazing monuments and memorials but the real charm is in the story that lies behind each one. Some were heart wrenching, one family had lost all five of their children in infancy whilst the parents lived to a relatively ripe old age. But others raised a smile, like the tomb of an actor inscribed with the line, ‘ unnumber’d parts he play’d, yet to the end, his best were those of Husband,Father,Friend’. This city has the tagline ‘People Make Glasgow’, and that’s probably true. The Necropolis just proves the point that it’s not just those who are still alive and kicking who make it.
There are a some where you might not recognise the name but you probably will have heard of their work, like that of William Miller. Bonus points if you already knew that he wrote the nursery rhyme ‘Wee Willie Winkie’. Extra bonus points if you can recall more than the first verse.
It isn’t just the great and the good represented here, many plots represent the everyday families of Glasgow’s past. It soon becomes clear that Glasgow is a city that has given generously when called upon for the building of the British Empire and military service. Many of those laid to rest here died in far-flung places in pursuit of the Empire or on the battlefield.
The really touching thing is how many of those who died in far off lands were returned to a final resting place in their home city. Glasgow sent its sons and daughters far and wide, but it also brought them home again to rest in a place of which Glaswegians past and present should be very proud.
As for the man on the train, well, he might have been on the nail about Sweden and Wetherspoons. I don’t know much about either of those. But he was wrong about Glasgow. Second city doesn’t mean second-rate, and Glasgow is definitely worth exploring.