Trust to run graveyards amid concerns for future

Greyfriars is one of five city graveyards said to be of 'cultural significance'. Picture: Katarzyna Krzywania

Greyfriars is one of five city graveyards said to be of 'cultural significance'. Picture: Katarzyna Krzywania

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FIVE historic Edinburgh graveyards on an “at risk” list are to be run by a new trust.

Friends groups are to be set up for Canongate, Greyfriars and St Cuthbert’s Kirkyards, and the New & Old Calton Burial Grounds as part of a pilot scheme

The five groups will research the background of each site, tackle long-standing problems, and draw up improvement and fundraising plans which the Heritage Lottery Fund will be asked to help realise.

It is hoped under the new set-up they will become major tourist attractions for those on tourist trails as well as local schools.

The sites include the final resting places some of the city’s most famous sons including philosopher David Hume, poet Robert Fergusson and economist Adam Smith, as well as memorials to the Scottish-American soldiers who fought in the American Civil War and Covenanters killed during decades of oppression in the 17th century.

The trusts plan follows the publication of a damning report which highlighted a string of problems, including poor security, problems with alcohol and drug abuse, vandalism, rough sleepers and prostitution, as well as poor access and a public perception of them as unwelcoming and unsafe places. The report by Dr Susan Buckham, one of Scotland’s leading experts on historic graveyards, said the five graveyards were of “exceptional cultural significance”.

It states: “All five graveyards are unique in their instigation, development and relationship to the city.

“When considered together, their association with local and national civic, religious and political events throughout the last 500 years constitutes them as a vital resource in understanding the development of the city and the events that have shaped both Scottish and British society into its present-day state.”

Dr Buckham said the Edinburgh report was effectively a “blueprint” for the future, which could be replicated across the country and build on several existing projects.

She added: “The vulnerability of these sites in Edinburgh is not as obvious as if they were under threat from developers or housing. They are tricky to deal with because none of them are in active use for burials any more. There has been long-term deterioration of these graveyards and their potential is just not being realised.

“The aim of the project is to encourage community stewardship of the graveyards and ensure their management is shaped by local needs and help people to realise they are worth looking after.

“The idea is to audit each of them in detail and build up a complete picture of what each graveyard has to offer.”

National charity Archaeology Scotland has set up an “adopt-a-monument” scheme to help raise awareness of the nation’s historic gravestones, saying their number far outstrips the resources that are needed to conserve them.

Director Eila Macqueen said: “The ideal scenario is to have a network of volunteers across the country to help raise funds to ensure their survival.”