Camelon cemetery is a great place for nostalgia

The tomb of John Wilson of South Bantaskine which features medallions of himself and his only son who died young
The tomb of John Wilson of South Bantaskine which features medallions of himself and his only son who died young

It may seem an odd thing to say, but one of the most pleasant green places in the Falkirk district is Camelon cemetery.

Beautifully laid out and maintained it has served the town for nearly 150 years and is full of interest for those with a sense of history.

Before it opened in 1869 the official place of burial was the Parish Kirkyard in High Street which was available to all residents whether they attended church or not.

Elsewhere there were church burial grounds in the Cow Wynd at the Tattie Kirk, on Tanners Brae for the West Church and Silver Row for members of the Erskine UP congregation.

These were limited to their own members and this meant that the Parish Church was overwhelmed with demand for burial space at a time when the population was rising fast.

It was already in a poor state as a report from 1859 made clear: “A filthy and offensive ditch separates the burial ground from the houses and the moisture which exudes from the crowded and elevated burial ground is most unwholesome to those living in these houses, shops or workrooms on the High Street.”

Fortunately, help was at hand in the person of John Beeby, the clerk to the Parochial Board, who persuaded the reluctant members that they should find the money to provide a municipal cemetery.

There was a huge debate at the time as to where it would be located. Land to the south of Hodge Street was a favourite though some wanted to put it north of Meeks Road, but in the end the Board opted for Dorrator.

Provost John Russel was a leading voice against this decision which he thought left the cemetery far too far from the town.

In 1868, 11 acres of land were acquired from the Earl of Zetland and the next year work began on laying out the ground following a plan drawn up by “Mr Clark, late of the Glasgow Botanic Gardens”.

William Millar of the Port Glasgow Cemetery was appointed Superintendent with a salary of £80 plus a free house and the cemetery opened for business in August 1870.

The area in use then lies close to the entrance and is presently designated by the letters A to M rather than the numbers which were given to the many large extensions to the north over the decades.

From the outset it was greatly admired for the beauty of the trees, shrubs and flower beds but the fact that 1500 lairs were set aside for paupers reminds us that there was a darker side to the burgh’s new prosperity.

A stroll through the oldest section is a treat.

Not only fine stones and inscriptions but the occasional surprise as three young deer came strolling among the graves, no doubt on their way to scoff yet another floral tribute!

Here are fine memorials to powerful families like the Aitkens, Cockburns, Nimmos and Russels.

There is also the poignant tomb of John Wilson of South Bantaskine with relief medallions of himself and his only son who died young.

In addition to that is the broken column that marks the last resting place of the town’s greatest poet Robert Buchanan and the memorial to James Love, the patron saint of local historians – a man close to my own heart.

Less decorative but just as significant are the stones set almost side by side reminding us of Patrick Shiels and David Porteous who died in the 1923 Redding Pit Disaster.

History round every corner. On a fine day there is no better place for a walk down memory lane.