New heritage trails tell the buried stories of the Canongate Kirkyard
A new voluntary group aims to raise the public profile of the Canongate Kirkyard.
Mar 4, 2015
The group have produced a series of heritage trails and podcasts voiced, among others, by Alexander McCall Smith. He said “I hope that the podcasts will help visitors to appreciate the remarkable history of this important corner of Edinburgh”
The Friends of the Canongate Kirkyard was formed at the beginning of 2014 with the support of Edinburgh World Heritage, as part of the Edinburgh Graveyards Project. Their aim is to explore new ways to maintain and enhance this historic burial ground and encourage local community involvement.
Laura Harrington, Chair, of the Friends of the Canongate Kirkyard said: "It is a privilege to be able to work towards enhancing and promoting our wonderful kirkyard and to contribute towards the Edinburgh Graveyard Project. Not only is this a lovely location it also holds many untold tales and secrets of its past, just waiting to be found.
It's vital these aren't lost and I see us all as the guardians of this sacred and historical place. The trails are the first steps towards the incredible things that can be achieved when volunteers work together towards a common goal. The connection we make won’t stop at the walls of the kirkyard but will stretch out into the Canongate and its community."
Adam Wilkinson, Director of Edinburgh World Heritage said: “We are delighted to be able to support the Friends of the Canongate Kirkyard, through the Edinburgh Graveyards Project. Enabling local people to get involved in their care and promotion is a crucial aim of the project, helping to ensure the long-term future of graveyards as a valued part of the World Heritage Site. These trails are a great example of how volunteers can participate in their local heritage, conducting detailed research to unearth the wealth of hidden stories the kirkyard has to tell.”
The ‘Burghs and Burials’ heritage trails each take a different theme: Scotland and the World, Arts, Enlightenment, Royalty and Trades. They highlight some of the fascinating and quirky stories behind the people buried in the kirkyard. The philosopher Adam Smith, poet Robert Fergusson and Agnes Macelhose or ‘Clarinda’, the muse for Burns’ poetry, all have graves there, but the trails also highlight some of the less well known burials.
The trails are illustrated by Carmen Moran, and researched by Eric Drake, Vice Chair of the Friends. Support for the initiative has come from the EWH Green Heritage Project, funded by the Climate Challenge Fund.
There are also podcasts on the same five themes narrated by Alexander McCall Smith, Rev Neil Gardner, Minister of Canongate, Marco Biagi, MSP for Edinburgh Central, Donald Smith, Director of the Scottish Storytelling Centre and Liz O’Malley, a member of the Friends group and a qualified tour guide.
Download the trails & podcasts below or explore the interactive map.
The trails tell some quirky stories such as:
A hot tempered Royal Surgeon. James Gregory was George III’s physician in Scotland. He had become a Professor at Edinburgh University when he was only 23, was popular with his students but fell out with colleagues. He was fined £100 (about £6,000 today) for beating up another professor. He paid up straight away and said he would happily fork out another £100 for the chance to do it again.
A memorial for a group of colleagues. Erected in the 1760s, this marks where members of the Coachdrivers Society of Canongate are buried. They operated the Edinburgh to London route from White Horse Close. In 1754, it took coaches 10 days in summer and 12 in winter to make the journey. The stone has a carving of a coach and horses crossing a bridge – perhaps the then new North Bridge.
The real Mr Darcy? Darcy Lever was a wealthy man with a house on Heriot Row. But as a young man in the 1780s he was an actor, stage name Mr Darcy, playing arrogant young aristocrats. Jane Austen liked theatre so people wonder whether this Mr Darcy inspired the character in Pride and Prejudice. Jane is unlikely to have seen him perform, but perhaps someone told her about him ...
Join the Friends!
In 2015 The Friends plan to further promote the fascinating history of the kirkyard through locally based events and publications. The first of these events will be a coffee morning on Saturday 7 March 2015 from 10.00am in the Harry Younger Hall, Lochend Close, Canongate. Anyone is welcome to come along to meet some of the group and find out about plans for the kirkyard and its community. Later in the year we will be working on the garden area around the Mercat Cross. And we are looking at the possibility of raising funds to prevent deterioration of the historic mausoleum of Dugald Stewart who was a key figure in the Scottish Enlightenment.
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