Dawn Morrison: What a fitting memorial to a historic Capital graveyard

As the secrets of the Grange Cemetery gravestones are revealed, Dawn Morrison looks at the stories behind the inscriptions

THE crumbling headstones tucked away in a quiet corner of the Capital were more than just a reminder of the people they commemorated. Carved into the worn stones was a treasure trove of information and the secrets of famous and interesting characters, which faced an uncertain future.

So in 2003, a small group of volunteers joined forces – determined to record the details of each and every headstone in the Grange Cemetery.

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Completed the best part of a decade later, the painstaking project by the Scottish Genealogy Society has collated the information on CD-Rom, which it is hoped will appeal to those interested the pursuit or in family history.

The society’s Dr James Cranstoun, 70, explained the inspiration behind the project.

“We were trying to preserve the records within the cemetery – gravestones are actually very useful because they have a lot of information that death records don’t.

“And there are many people in the graveyard that can’t be found in any other records – they might have died away from home but their relatives still wanted to put something up. There were seven or eight of us volunteers involved – a lot have since died because the society relies on grey power.”

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In 1967, a record was drawn up of the headstones by one of the founder members of the Scottish Genealogy Society, John Mitchell – but it only went back as far as 1855.

“I may not have succeeded in halting the war, but I did secure the right of parliament to decide on war” Robin Cook

The cemetery now only offers cremations, but the politician Robin Cook was buried there in 2007 – even though it had been declared closed.

“You have to have had quite a strong influence to have been buried in the cemetery,” said Dr Cranstoun. The anti-war quotation on Cook’s gravestone was thought to be a fitting testimony to what he stood for.

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The creation of the Grange Cemetery – known as a garden cemetery due to its beautiful surroundings – was announced in 1845. Lairs could be purchased for between £2 and £12, but the directors warned no guarantee could be given that the grave would not be re-used at a future dates. The Edinburgh Southern Cemetery Company also offered for hire two hearses, to alleviate the indignity of conducting funerals by spokes or on shoulders.

Due to some reported gruesome irregularities at Dalry Cemetery, the medical officer of health for Edinburgh ordered an inspection of the grounds and of several other city cemeteries – including the Grange. It transpired children at Dalry were buried in very shallow graves and then secretly moved to the vaults.

When another burial took place – usually of an adult – under cover of darkness the child’s body would be removed from the vault, the recent grave opened and the body added.

“James Smith, printer and Scottish story writer, born 2 March 1824, died 12 December 1887, erected by friends and admirers 1889”

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Not far from the north-eastern entrance of the cemetery stands a memorial built of red sandstone. A portrait of the deceased, James Smith, features on the upper part of the monument, while a female statuette extends a wreath up towards him. The elaborate memorial – coupled with the glowing testimony – led Dr Cranstoun to question who he was and what his achievements were. According to Dr Cranstoun, Smith was evidently not a “great” writer as critics and literary historians do not mention him at all – but the monument suggested he was very popular in his day.

But it was not just the famous who had fascinating gravestones. A young man named David Brown met an early death through his attempts to keep people away from the demon drink. His memorial, erected by fellow labourers in the Temperance Reformation, read: “To the memory of David Brown, who died of Typhus fever while engaged as missionary of the Edinburgh Total Abstinence Society, 31st January, 1848, aged 29, possessing an amiable disposition and unaffected modesty he devoted himself to the improvement of one of the most degraded and miserable portions of the community, and thereby gained for himself the esteem and admiration of a large circle of friends.”

n To buy the CD-Rom, visit www.scotsgenealogy.com

Sir George McCrae

Born in 1860, Colonel Sir George McCrae was a textile merchant and Liberal Party MP for Edinburgh East.

As a volunteer soldier in the First World War, he famously raised the 16th Battalion the Royal Scots – with the entire Hearts first team among his first recruits.

He died in 1928.


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Robin Cook, the former Livingston Labour MP and Foreign Secretary, resigned from the Cabinet in 2003 over his opposition to the Iraq war. Born in 1946, he died in 2005 aged 59 after collapsing from a heart attack while hill walking in Sutherland.


Edinburgh University graduate Rev Thomas Guthrie, born in 1803, was a preacher and philanthropist. He founded the “Ragged Schools”, to give destitute children a free education. He died in 1873.


Born in 1802, geologist Hugh Miller was a writer, folklorist and evangelical Christian. His works include The Old Red Sandstone. He died in 1856 and his bust is in the Wallace Monument’s Hall of Heroes.


Reverend Dr Thomas Chalmers, born in 1780, was a leader of the Free Protestant Church of Scotland.

Also prolific in literature, the mathematician and political economist died in 1847. His statue is on George Street.

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