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    Glasgow Necropolis: A Monument to ‘Child Migrants’…


    Glasgow Necropolis weeping woman statue © 2007 Scotiana

    Glasgow Necropolis © 2007 Scotiana


    Here fond affection

    rears its sculpted stone…

    (from John Henry Alexander’s epitaph – Glasgow Necropolis)


    “CEMETERIES ARE FOR THE LIVING. Sure, the dead are the permanent residents and the living merely visitors but the Necropolis and every other burying ground in the world were imagined, designed and built for the benefit of other living people. Time, as we are always reminded in graveyards, marches on and one generation of living people is replaced by another, over and over, time without end, amen.”

    (Death by Design – The True Story of the Glasgow Necropolis – Ronnie Scott )



    Hi everybody!

    It’s always with much anticipation that I’m waiting for a new post by Janice or a new ‘Letter from Scotland’ by Iain and Margaret ;-). In her last post, Janice mentioned an article she had just read in Celtic Life , a popular Nova Scotia magazine which aims “to celebrate the living culture of the Seven Celtic Nations (Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Brittany, Galicia in Spain and the Isle of Man), to “share the culture, traditions, history, music, books, art, stories and language of all Celtic people.”  The article is entitled ‘Child Slaves From Scotland; A Story rarely told‘ . The very name of this article conjured up a lot of unforgettable memories which brought me back instantly to Glasgow Necropolis, in front of a monument erected in memoriam of the unhappy children who came to be called “Child Migrants”. When we discovered the monument, quite by chance I must say, our first thought was that it was the grave of a much beloved child and it’s only on reading a board nearby that we learned the sad fate of those unfortunate children to which it is dedicated.

    At the end of a grey and rainy day, on August 2007, we had been haunting the alleys of  the “silent city”, as Ronnie Scott calls the Necropolis in his very interesting little book Death by Design. This strange city counts no less than 50,000 residents, a figure which would suggest a great density of population and much noise on the ‘Grey Rock’ if we didn’t know that its inhabitants aren’t taking much place and that they aren’t making much noise… or at least that’s what we’re expecting from them !

    With this post, I’m introducing a series of articles about Scottish graveyards. It had not escaped to me, when we were planning our first visit to Scotland, in 2000, that we would find there some of the most ‘romantic’ churchyards we would ever see. In their silent and peaceful atmosphere, just try to decipher what the old stones have to say. Each of them has its secrets and  stories to tell, some graves are true works of art and poetry, others read like pages of history and you will find expressed on many of them a unique and irresistible kind of humour… finally, in this realm of death what we discover is a quite astonishing celebration of life…


    Glasgow Necropolis Dalmatian © 2007 Scotiana

    Glasgow Necropolis - Dalmatian Dog © 2007 Scotiana

    Always a dog in the neighbourhood ;-)…  no Greyfriar’s Bobby in the Necropolis but we’ve met a friend anyway. So dogs seem to be welcome here.  No wonder, it’s a magnificent park to take a walk and, up the ‘Grey Rock’, you can get a magnificent panoramic view of Glasgow and the whole area, if the weather is fine, of course!

    We discovered Glasgow Necropolis on the very first day of our arrival in Scotland, in June 2000, and quite by chance I must say, after a short visit to the cathedral had left us very frustrated (closing time at 5.30 ) but we did not regret our walk in the solitary and labyrinthine city of the dead (the Necropolis is open from 7.00 till dusk daily). Our first trip to Scotland did not last long but it began in Glasgow and though we only stayed two days there, we could visit a number of very interesting places (Kelvingrove Art and Museum – the old Glasgow Transport Museum – St Mungo’s Museum of Religious Life and Art with Dali’s famous “Christ of St John of the Cross” –  Glasgow Cathedral). We immediately loved the big city even if when we arrived a cold and wintry atmosphere made it rather gloomy after a sunny departure from Bordeaux. In 2000, our aim was to go as far as Bettyhill in the north of Scotland and as we intended to visit a number of places on the road there was not much time left for Glasgow and still less for Edinburgh which we finally did not visit on this first trip.

    In 2006 and 2007, when Janice joined us in our Scotland travelling journeys, our interest for Scottish funerary art expanded since she was looking for her Scottish ancestors and consequently we visited a number of graveyards all around Scotland.

    Death by Design The True Story of the Glasgow Necropolis Ronnie Scott Black & White Publishing 2005 front cover

    Death by Design, The True Story of the Glasgow Necropolis - Ronnie Scott - Black & White Publishing 2005 front cover


    To visit the Necropolis is to travel back in time, to dip into the Victorian world-view, where the heroes or robber barons (take your pick) of capitalism and the winners and losers of various religious disputes rub shoulders with long-forgotten poets and novelists. It provides a powerful sense of the transience of all things, the fads and fashions that pass into the mists of time, like the Clyde shipyards, the locomotives makers, the shipping lines and the importers of sugar, tea, tobacco and rum.

    (Death by Design – The True Story of the Glasgow Necropolis – Ronnie Scott)

    This very interesting and well-written little book of 122 pages  is illustrated and we find in it a few remarkable epitaphs.

    “Modelled on Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, the Glasgow Necropolis first opened for burial in 1832 and has been a haunt for cemetery tourists ever since. Dominated by its memorial obelisk to John Knox, the Necropolis is a living testament to Victorian funerary excesses and the nineteenth century’s obsession with death, sometimes referred to as the Cult of the Dead. Here, Ronnie Scott surveys the architecture of the Necropolis’s monuments, graves and mausoleums and the architects who built them. And he also tells the stories of the folk who inhabit the Necropolis or City of the Dead, as the word necropolis translates. Unlike Pere Lachaise, the Necropolis in Glasgow may not be able to boast of being the last resting place of anyone quite as famous as Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison or Edith Piaf but it does have its share of celebrity corpses. By the middle of nineteenth century, anyone who was anyone in Glasgow was buried there or had a Necropolis monument erected to their memory. The designer of the Royal Yacht Britannia, industrialists like Charles Tennent and Lord Kelvin, a Polish freedom fighter, they’re all here and all have their own interesting stories – as do some of the rather less well-respected occupants, such as the professor of anatomy who encouraged body-snatching. The architecture of the tombs, gravestones and memorials is as varied as the lives the citizens of the Necropolis led – and sometimes just as flamboyant. The men, such as Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson, who designed Glasgow’s city-centre buildings during the period when it was second only to London in terms of prosperity also had a hand in creating the Necropolis and their life stories are covered here too.

    Ronnie Scott is a cemetery historian who has spent four years researching the Glasgow Necropolis for his PhD thesis. He regularly leads guided tours of the Necropolis and gives presentations on cemetery development and body-snatching.”

    (Source: Amazon)

    Here’s the contents:


    1. Building the Silent City
    2. Pure Dead Brilliant
    3. On the Tourist Trail
    4. History Set in Stone
    5. Making a Grand Exit
    6. From the Cemetery to the Nursery
    7. The Bodysnatcher and the Brewer
    8. It’s All Greek to Me
    9. Ascending Towards Heaven
    10. The Clyde Built Men
    11. From Common Graves to the Royal Yacht
    12. All Human Life is Here
    13. The Words and the Stones

    A Short Glossary

    What Some of the Symbols Mean

    Glagow Necropolis Heritage Trail  Glasgow City Council leaflet

    Glagow Necropolis Heritage Trail - Glasgow City Council leaflet


    We visited the Necropolis in 2000, 2001 and 2007 and the place was never the same. In 2007, we stayed longer there as if we wanted to miss no grave, no inscription, no symbol. At the entrance,  we had been given a very interesting leaflet with a detailed map in it and it proved quite useful to us. We were probably the last people to leave the Necropolis that day and we were quite surprised to see that cars were patrolling the park (the park is patrolled regularly by the Ranger Service) and we were asked several times if all was right with us. We would soon appreciate that reassuring presence for, as time was passing, we began to feel unsafe as if a vague danger was looming, not coming from the dead but from the living for at this late hour we began to meet strange people, and to feel that we were followed..

    For sure, next time we’ll join a guided visit… and why not a ghost walk 😉 I think I’ve found a guide who doesn’t lack panache ! We’ll certainly book a tour of the Necropolis with this noble mousquetaire in the very atmospheric video below!

    At the end of our visit of the Necropolis we fell on the Child Migrants monument. It was not mentioned on our leaflet and we had not seen it on our previous visits of the Necropolis. At first, we thought it was a child’s grave for it was surrounded by teddy bears and all sorts of colourful and fluffy toys but it was not,  as we soon learned on the nearby board.

    Glasgow necropolis 'Child Migrants' monument  © 2007 Scotiana

    Glasgow Necropolis 'Child Migrants' monument © 2007 Scotiana

    This poignant monument is dedicated to the British children who were sent to other commonwealth countries, known as the « child migrants ».

    Glasgow necropolis 'Child Migrants' monument   © 2007 Scotiana

    Glasgow Necropolis 'Child Migrants' monument © 2007 Scotiana

    Inscribed on the monument, in golden letters, is a quotation from Isaiah 49-15:

    “I will not forget you…

    Glasgow Necropolis Child Migrants monument detail 'in the palm of my hand'  © 2007 Scotiana

    Glasgow Necropolis 'Child Migrants' monument detail - 'In the palm of my hand' © 2007 Scotiana

    I have held you in the palm of my hand”


    Has not this child on the engraving a little air of Saint Exupéry’s  ‘Petit Prince’ ?


    Glasgow Necropolis 'child migrants' monument teddy bears  © 2007 Scotiana

    Glasgow Necropolis 'child migrants' monument with teddy bears © 2007 Scotiana

    Little presents, full of tenderness and symbolizing childhood, have been laid by anonymous visitors in front of the monument…

    Glasgow Necropolis little teddy bear  © 2007 Scotiana

    Glasgow Necropolis - Little teddy bear © 2007 Scotiana

    … showing that there are still people who want to know and not to forget…

    Below is the story of these children as we discovered it on the weatherbeaten board, nearby the monument.


    Glasgow Necropolis 'child migrants' monument  © 2007 Scotiana

    Glasgow Necropolis 'child migrants' monument © 2007 Scotiana


    It reads:

    (…) Many children left in homes, due to broken marriages or family pressures, were shipped overseas.

    The reasons behind the scheme were practical. It helped populate the Commonwealth with white children and it relieved Britain of the burden of looking after them. At the time the organisations involved also thought that the children were likely to have a better life abroad.

    Classified as orphans, although the majority were not, many children were often sent away without the knowledge of parents or relatives and were denied details of their family. Brothers and sisters were separated and some children faced appaling conditions in large institutions or were forced to work for long hours and little pay.

    Rose Kruger, a former child migrant, met her sister for the first time in 50 years in 1997. She was one of group of 40 women who returned to Britain to be reunited with lost family members or just to visit the country they once called home.

    Rose was deported when she was 11 years old. She lived in a Catholic orphanage in Scotland and one day was told she was going on holiday. Her sister, who was three years older, did not know where Rose had been sent until nine years ago.

    The trip, which the 40 former child migrants dubbed “the sentimental journey”, was partially funded by Catholic charities and the Australian Child Migrant Foundation.

    The Catholic Church now acknowledges that in many cases the migrant policy had a “profoundly adverse effect” on the children. Many of the organisations like Barnados and the Salvation Army, which originally sent the children overseas, now try to help reunite former child migrants with relatives, wherever possible.

    The Child Migrants Trust.

    Glasgow Necropolis The children Britain did not want article photo © 2007 Scotiana

    Glasgow Necropolis The children Britain did not want article photo © 2007 Scotiana

    Thirty years after Britain stopped sending its children overseas to other commonwealth countries, an investigation gets underway into the practice. It follows a legal battle by what become known as the ‘child migrants’

    More than 130,000 children were ‘exorted’, over a period of more than 100 years. The practice was only stopped in 1967. Many of those who were migrants themselves say it had a devastating effect on their lives.

    A Health Committe inquiry, which opens on Wednesday, is to hear evidence from people who, as children, were deported to Australia, Canada, New Zealand or the former Rhodesia.

    The Commons inquiry will try to establish how the British Government should help former child migrants «come to terms with their childhood experience and establish contact with their surviving relations in the U. » . One of the questions it will be considering is whether they are entitled to  any form of compensation.

    (BBC News)

    We were all deeply moved by this story and stayed silent for a long moment in front of the monument. Then we  passed along the Garden of Roses , crossed the Bridge of Sighs and found ourselves again in the big busy city of Glasgow where there is still so much to discover …

    Glasgow Necropolis Dalmatian  © 2007 Scotiana

    Glasgow Necropolis - Dalmatian Dog © 2007 Scotiana


    Bye bye doggy friend…

    A bientôt chers lecteurs.




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