Neglected Newington Cemetery restored

Tony Harris, Janet Sidaway, Barbara McNaught, Dave Stone and Catherine Blythe. Picture: Scott Taylor
Tony Harris, Janet Sidaway, Barbara McNaught, Dave Stone and Catherine Blythe. Picture: Scott Taylor
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A CITY cemetery has been transformed from a neglected wilderness to a new haven with a story to tell.

Two years of hard work by volunteers has helped reclaim Newington Cemetery and 
establish its links with a host of historical figures.

The 14-acre graveyard off Dalkeith Road is the final resting place of artist Sir William McTaggart, golfer Arnaud Massy and George Stewart McLennan, one of the most highly-regarded bagpipe music composers, among others.

There are also 143 First World War graves and a war memorial maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

And now the Friends of Newington Cemetery have produced a map which tells visitors where they can find the graves of special interest.

Convener Janet Sidaway said the group was formed two years ago with the aim of restoring the cemetery to its former glory.

She said the idea had come from Tony Harris, now chairman of Grange/Prestonfield Community Council.

Monthly working parties of up to a dozen volunteers, armed with secateurs, sheers and rakes, target selected areas in the northern part of the cemetery to tame the undergrowth and uncover forgotten graves.

Among their discoveries was a “catacomb” in the centre of the graveyard – a formal stone terrace capped with a Romanesque arch with individual burial spaces.

“If you were very rich you could buy a place to be buried there. But I don’t think there was anyone rich enough because there’s no-one buried in the catacomb.”

The cemetery – originally known as Newington Necropolis – was opened in 1846 by the Metropolitan Cemetery Association. It is an example of the post-1830s “garden cemeteries movement”. It was also known as Echo Bank or Ekkie Bank.

It was compulsorily purchased by the city council in 1994, partly because of its overgrown and neglected state.

Ms Sidaway said the Friends of Newington Cemetery worked closely with the council to tackle the undergrowth.

She said: “It was awful, people didn’t want to go there because it was so overgrown. It was not a pleasant place to walk. Now it’s great, and we have lots of people walking their dogs and they always say how beautiful it is.”

Edinburgh South MP Ian Murray was today unveiling the new map.

He said: “The local volunteers who have come together as a friends group to help improve and maintain the cemetery deserve a huge debt of gratitude for their work. The cemetery houses the graves of many interesting local people and is also a Commonwealth War Graves site. ”

• Tours of the cemetery will be offered as part of Doors Open Day next Sunday, between 1.30pm and 4pm.

WHO’S BURIED HERE?

• Renowned painter William McTaggart (1835-1910).

• Frenchman Arnaud Massy (1877-1950), pictured, the first non-British golfer to win The Open in 1907.

• George Stewart McLennan (1884-1929), Pipe Major of the Gordon Highlanders, famous as a composer of pipe tunes.

• Footballer William Groves (1868-1908), who played for Hibs, Celtic, West Bromwich Albion and Aston Villa.

• Rev Dr John Cairns (1818-92), leading Presbyterian and scholar.

• Jean Thomson Harris (1881-1963) wife of Rotary Club founder Paul Harris.