Edinburgh World Heritage - News Article


A new lease of life for New Calton graveyard tower

An EWH grant will help bring a graveyard watchtower back to use for the Edinburgh Art Festival. 

Jul 22, 2013

The watchtower in New Calton burial ground was opened in 1820 to guard against grave robbers, who looked to sell recently interred bodies to the anatomy school. It was occupied as a dwelling until 1950, and a notable former resident was the architect David Bryce (1803 - 76).

The new installation by Christine Borland and Brody Condon forms part of the Edinburgh Art Festival. Titled ‘Daughters of Decayed Tradesmen’, the installation will draw on oral histories related to Edinburgh’s Trades Maiden Hospital. The EWH grant of £15,000 will help towards work to clear away debris, make safe the high-level masonry, set up a new timber joisted roof, and install handrails.

Fiona MacDonald, Conservation Architect for Edinburgh World Heritage said: "We are delighted to be able to help repair this significant part of Edinburgh's history, and to put it back into use for the Edinburgh Art Festival. Initially the building will be made safe and water-tight, but we hope that this will be the first step to finding a future for the building. A friends group is being organised for the New Calton Burial Ground, and using the watchtower to host an art installation will demonstrate the potential of this neglected historic area."

New Calton Burying Ground

Opened in 1820, the burying ground was created for the re-internment of remains disturbed when Waterloo Place was built through the Old Calton Burying Ground. The new burial ground provided compensation for its owners, the Society of the Incorporated Trades of Calton.

Prior to the Second World War a family of ten is said to have lived in the watchtower’s three rooms. The parents occupied the middle floor, their daughters and sons occupied the top and bottom floors respectively. Unused lairs to the south of the watchtower were cultivated by the family for growing vegetables

Amongst the burials are Robert and Thomas Stevenson, the grandfather and father of the author Robert Louis Stevenson. Robert Stevenson was a successful civil engineer, who as superintendent of Northern Lighthouses and responsible for planning Regent Road where the cemetery lies. Thomas Stevenson followed suit as an engineer who also invented the modern lighthouse light. The architect Archibald Elliot is also buried here

At least six Admirals are buried within the grounds including Rear-Admiral James Bissett (d.1824), Vice-Admiral Alexander Frazer (d.1829), Rear-Admiral, Andrew Smith (d.1831), Admiral Graham (d.1854), Vice-Admiral Alexander Frazer, (d.1870) and Admiral Peat, (d.1879) (Anderson 645). For this reason New Calton, with its distant views to Leith and the Firth of Forth, has been referred to in the past as The Cemetery of the Admirals

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