Notes on...

The graveyard where old Glasgow lives on

If the Science Centre represents a transition from shipyard to pleasure dome, the Necropolis still stands for the Second City of the Empire

1 August 2015

9:00 AM

1 August 2015

9:00 AM

A wet walk in a Glaswegian graveyard might not be your idea of fun, but then you might not have spent the past two hours in the Glasgow Science Centre. Endure that, and see the sodden Necropolis stroll swell in allure.

The Science Centre is one of the emblems of the new Glasgow. Rising from the old docklands on the south side of the Clyde, beside the BBC at Pacific Quay, it is one of the shouty new buildings leading the regeneration of the old shipbuilding areas. These buildings and their outlying friends still look like awkward blow-ins here, isolated blobs of glitter studding the wasteland. There’s not yet much sense of any connection with Govan Road, 200 yards to the west, but people are certainly coming here from somewhere for something, and in their multitudes.

The Science Centre is a vogueish sort of place that encourages absolutely everything except contemplation. It screams fun at its visitors, especially children, who are duped into thinking they are in a play park and who behave accordingly. My four-year-old kept asking to go on the bouncy castle even though, quite surprisingly, there wasn’t one. Instead we put him through the face-ageing machine. It took his photo and then revealed how appalling he will look in ten years’ time if he chooses to spend the decade boozing, and how much worse he’ll look if he’s been on the fags as well. Salutary larks.

Meanwhile, a lunatic press of children with green mohicans and replica football shirts yank levers, spin magnets, measure their heartbeats and twist hyperboloids for a few seconds apiece before dashing to the next attraction. The amount of scientific knowledge gleaned from these interactions is evidently zero but everyone seems to be having a splendid time. Or almost everyone.

I despise the mania, but I have our trip to the Necropolis to look forward to. When the time comes to drag the happy boy from the plastinated lung display, he collapses in protest and screams, awkwardly and repeatedly, ‘I don’t want to go to the graveyard!’ Nevertheless, to the graveyard he went and, as it turns out, he had even more fun there because it was raining and it was a big wet hill full of wet trees and wet puddles and the quiet threat of ghosts.

If the Science Centre represents Glasgow’s lumbersome transition from shipyard to faux-educational pleasure dome, the Necropolis still stands for the might of the Second City of the Empire. Built around 1831 on a hill behind the cathedral, this 32-acre site hosts the bones of some 50,000 Glaswegians. Bold Victorian Glasgow is represented here among many magnificent tombs, some designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh or Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson.

The Necropolis is essential Glasgow. With its greenery, quiet, and roaming views, the city of the dead remains a blessed foil to the urban thrum below and, while elsewhere the city’s heritage is erased, here at least old Glasgow will endure.

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  • ChuckieStane

    The Necropolis is always well worth a visit – a facinating history of the “great and good” of Victorian Glasgow with works by number of great architects and sculptors. There is right amount of decay and decrepitude to help with the atmosphere.

    And let us not forget that it does indeed reflect the Victorian city with almost 50,000 unmarked graves many of whom were infants.

  • justejudexultionis

    Please God, let Claudia Massie not be the daughter of Allan Massie or the brother of Alex Massie. Who will rid us of this plague of nepotism in our country!?

    • Doninwindsor

      No chance of that. It is too deeply ingrained.

    • 2fishypoliticians

      Who on earth honestly cares if she is? You obviously have nothing better to worry about. Life is obviously good to you.

  • Scott Kerr

    The Friends of Glasgow Necropolis offer free tours of this magnificent place. Full details of the website:

  • Edwin Moore

    Excellet piece Claudia thanks. We grew up opposite the Necropolis, in Collins St – Betjeman loved the Necropolis. My brother spent his last years in a flat in the Drygate down by Duke St. A guy we knew moved into one of the tombs. Colin and others put out food for him. Eventually a nice social worker person found the guy a flat where he soon died.

    Was goiing to do the Necropolis link Scott beat me to it. Here are some more pics –

  • ohforheavensake

    I’m from Glasgow. They’re both fine. Don’t be so snobbish.

  • Richard

    I wonder how soon it will be before cemeteries are seen as “divisive” and will be removed for not being “inclusive”? The past is not exempt from the present.

  • goggyturk

    I had the pleasure of visiting Glasgow Science Centre with my kids last year. It’s well worth a visit in spite of the garbage being spouted in this article. I remember my young daughter enjoying the lung and human anatomy exhibits in particular which the author denigrates in her ignorance.

    The fact that the author believes that kids that age should do ‘contemplation’ (whatever she thinks that should be) is more revealing of her own prejudices than anything else. If you want contemplation, I suggest going to a museum or a library. Neither of those words appear in ‘Glasgow Science Centre’ – the clue’s in the name.

  • HJ777

    The Necropolis is one of my favourite places in Glasgow – a fantastic monument (or rather multiple monuments) to the contribution and influence of individual efforts on the wellbeing and wealth of Glasgow. Unfortunately, it is hard to imagine anything like being created today.

    Its sheer size is astonishing and the from the Necropolis you have wonderful view.