Falkirk’s forgotten graveyards offer fascinating historical insights

The West Kirkyard garden of remembrance in Falkirk
The West Kirkyard garden of remembrance in Falkirk
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In August 1870 the Parochial Board of Falkirk opened the new cemetery in Dorrator Road bringing to an end burials in the handful of churchyards which had served the town for many decades.

Such places are a treasure store of information about our ancestors and if you take a trip to Larbert, Polmont, Muiravonside or Bothkennar you can stroll through the centuries learning about trades and professions and the impact of disease. However, Falkirk has not been so fortunate. Nowadays we value old graveyards and protect them but back in the 1960s things were very different.

At the same time as fine old buildings were biting the dust to be replaced by concrete monstrosities our immediate predecessors turned their backs on the past and, like the vandals of old, consigned large parts of our history to the dust.

Of the five churchyards officially closed in 1871 the small one behind Christ Church in Kerse Lane was the newest and least used. It would appear that there was only one burial there before closure. Of the other four the first to disappear was the burial ground of the old Erskine Church in Silver Row.

It had been in operation since 1742 and contained at the time of its destruction over 170 stones with inscriptions. The whole lot were removed – including the grave lairs and their inhabitants – to make way for the great white elephant that became the Callendar Centre. The deceased were reburied in the cemetery in 1960.

A couple of years later it was the turn of the Parish Church to get rid of nearly 400 stones marking the graves of some of the most important people in the history of Falkirk.

The need to create more access space for cars was the main reason given and stones which might have been moved and preserved around the edges were unceremoniously smashed to pieces and used as bottoming for the road into the crematorium. The deceased were undisturbed, but sadly today they lie beneath the grass in unmarked graves.

The third graveyard lay to the west of what is today the Peoples’ Church, but on Christmas Day, 1819, when Isabel Steel of Bainsford Granary became the first person buried there, it was the Relief Church, a breakaway from the Church of Scotland.

In 1972 another 150-odd stones were removed and the graveyard flagged over to create a garden of remembrance with a handful of stones left around the walls. It is certainly a peaceful place – but remembrance? How much more to remember if we could read the names and recall the stories of past lives?

The final graveyard is the great survivor.

Round behind the Cow Wynd is the small burial ground of what was the South United Presbyterian Church known to one and all as the Tattie Kirk.

The church was built in 1806 but it was not until 1827 that the first burial is recorded. The church congregation moved to Grahams Road in 1879 by which time nearly all burials had ceased. Although the graveyard is not quite as big as it once was, and many stones have suffered from neglect and vandalism, at least it is still there.

It remains as a reminder of what should have been done elsewhere and a spur to the authorities to make sure it is repaired, restored and treasured for all time to come.