Newington Cemetery

Dalkeith Road, Edinburgh, Scotland

In 1846 this site was known as Echo Bank Cemetery, and later became known as the Newington Necropolis. The original Gothic lodge is still in evidence and is used as a gatekeeper’s cottage.

This cemetery is neglected and vandalized.  Tombstones are toppled over and broken.  It is overrun with ivy, and in some instances it is impossible to see the headstones.  The gravestones located at the perimeter wall are impossible to reach because the ground is covered in vegetation.  It is objectionable that this hallowed ground has been neglected and allowed to deteriorate, and yet it is a very peaceful island in the midst of the city where the sun shines through the foliage of the ancient trees and lends a sadness and eeriness to the scene.

It is one of the most haunting sites I’ve visited. Large and spacious it covers a large area in the city. It is both open and wooded. The overgrown foliage entangles the tombstones, obliterates the names whilst the shade from the trees plunges the area into gloom. At every turn the rustling leaves seem ominous, and I checked over my shoulder more than once. I was transported to a book I once read “A Fine and Lonely Place,” which told the story of an old man who frequented a cemetery. Perhaps that is what triggered my fascination with cemeteries and gravestone and the history of inscriptions.

There is a wrought iron fenced area against the front wall containing gravestones with images of the Star of David and Hebrew writing. The Jewish section was created in 1945, and it seems to me vindictive and intolerant that even in death the Jews are segregated from the others.

edinburgh_newington_jewish

If there is another world he lived in bliss
If there be none he made the most of this. 1938

In mansions of glory and endless delight
I’ll ever adore thee in heaven so bright
And sing with a glittering crown on my brow
If ever I love thee my Jesus ‘tis now.

This stone recalls sad thoughts of one who in the summer’s shady bloom straight from the arms of love went down to the gloomy portals of the tomb. 1869

A Report Filed for Edinburgh Evening News, 06 February 1991:
On Monday I went for a walk in a graveyard. Preoccupied with sombre thoughts in these sombre times, I stood before a huge memorial stone “to the honoured memory of one hundred and thirty nine British sailors and soldiers who gave their lives for their country during the Great War 1914-1918”.

In large letters across the top of the memorial was written: “Their name liveth for evermore”. Behind it was a large ragged heap of stones and an unkempt tangle of undergrowth. The place was dirty, depressing and very cold.

These days, there should be no need to remind ourselves of the need to respect the dead. It behoves us all to honour those who have passed away, whether they died by accident, of old age, in the First World War, or in a futile fight for oil.

It follows that any civilised society should take great care of its graves. In Newington cemetery near Cameron Toll, where I was, the graves have been allowed to go to rack and ruin.

Headstones had collapsed, crosses were broken and graffiti disfigured tombs. Broken glass, rusty tin cans and plastic bags were littered all over the place. In some places the undergrowth was so thick that it was difficult to see or get to the burial grounds.

In the summer the graveyard is swamped with weeds and bushes. It is infested with hundreds of giant hogweeds which in sunlight cause serious burns to the skin. It is, as the Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate for Edinburgh South, Struan Stevenson, told me, “an utter disgrace”.

He said he had received complaints from local people that “they need a machete to hack their way to their loved ones’ graves”. He thought it was outrageous that a cemetery regularly visited by hundreds of people should have been allowed to deteriorate from a place of rest into a jungle.

A few years ago, a teenage boy was killed by a falling tombstone. Perhaps that is why at the entrance to Newington cemetery there is an ugly sign. “Warning”, it says. “This cemetery is private property. The owners cannot accept responsibility for accidents to unauthorised persons.”

*UPDATE* September 2015

After two years of hard work by volunteers the cemetery has been restored to its former glory. Dozens of volunteers met each month armed with secateurs, sheers and rakes to tame the undergrowth and uncover concealed graves. During the process an empty catacomb in the centre of the graveyard was discovered.

The Friends of Newington Cemetery have produced a map of the 14-acre graveyard identifying the graves of famous people and a Commonwealth War Graves memorial.

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