Living Kirkyards in the Clyde and Avon Valleys

Written by Sarah Phillips, Built and Cultural Heritage Officer, Clyde and Avon Valley Landscape Partnership

Graveyards capture a sense of place unlike any other historic sites. Wandering within their walls, visitors reading the richly detailed gravestone carvings and inscriptions are rewarded with glimpses of a day-to-day life long since lost.  Today, these historic graveyards are also outdoor museums teeming with life from the fauna and flora which live there.

Dr Susan Buckham, Kirkyard Consulting

Over the past few months the Clyde and Avon Valley Landscape Partnership (CAVLP) has been working with graveyard specialist Dr Susan Buckham to develop a conservation strategy and action plan for rural, historic graveyards within the project boundaries. We think these are valuable places, both for their natural and cultural heritage, which need our care and attention.


St Patrick’s Churchyard, Dalzell

In January, CAVLP commissioned Dr Susan Buckham, of Kirkyard Consulting with Fiona Fisher from the Strathclyde Building Preservation Trust to undertake a conservation strategy for our local kirkyards because..

Although graveyards are often found in every community, actually we know surprisingly little about them. Eight different graveyards have been surveyed as part of this project to identify interesting gravestones and buildings and the habitat, aesthetic and amenity values of their landscapes. Fieldwork also measures how well this important resource is faring against the effects of time, the elements and management issues. Studies like this help us better understand what’s unique and special about graveyards so that we can ensure their protection and promotion to a wide audience.

Dr Susan Buckham, Kirkyard Consulting

The burial grounds surveyed all have interesting aspects to focus on, from churchyards such as St. Ninian’s at Stonehouse to cemateries like the 1906 lawn cemetery, also at Stonehouse.  There are small estate burials, such as Mauldslie and  a pet cemetery at Dalzell. Glassford boasts a fine collection of 18th century gravestones, including one with a rare “Tree of Life” symbol carving, while Dalserf has a hogback stone, likely to date to the 10th or 11th century.  We also have a World Heritage Site in our collection, as the non-denominational burial ground for New Lanark, one of our partners,  is on our doorstep (yes, my office is in a World Heritage Site).


Where I get to come to work everyday – New Lanark World Heritage Site

Today, I am reviewing the final report and identifying initial actions from the plan to take forward to help achieve CAVLP’s overall aims and objectives.  It really has provided me with a comprehensive plan to take forward, we may not be able to do everything identified but we can definitely add to our understanding of these valuable resources.

There has been a considerable amount of work done by different community groups on recording the graveyards in the area, in particularly Stonehouse Heritage Group for their local churchyard and Lanarkshire Family History Society.  Some groups are interested in recording inscriptions; others have focused on the Covenanter graves in the area.  Looking at the report, the first action will be matching information recorded to site plans, and filling in the gaps; include creating site plans for a few of the sites.    A key element of this will be developing a full photographic record for each of the burial grounds.

Community involvement will be key in doing this and we hope to pull in individuals and groups already interested in the graveyards, as well as develop new interest in local communities.  Our village network events allow us to chat to communities and hear what is important to them, and certainly the burial grounds are of interest but often people are not sure what they can do to help.

J Young Tour

John Young, Stonehouse Heritage Group, providing an engaging tour of the churchyard.

A new aspect for me, as an archaeologist, is the importance of the kirkyards as “living”; places to encourage a diverse range of wildlife. There has been less information collected about this element of the sites, and so this has been a great opportunity to collaborate with my colleagues in the partnership on how we can involve volunteers and experts to undertake natural heritage surveys to begin to understand their importance as habitats for wildlife.

The report also suggests many ways we can promote this information to local communities through interpretation and events.  We have already had one event, where Stonehouse Heritage Group provided a walking tour of the Stonehouse Kirkyard and a series of short talks from a range of speakers including Peder Aspen, a geologist who spoke about the issues of stone conservation and the Friends of Glasgow Necropolis about raising funds for their conservation work.

So today, will hopefully result in me moving forward on what we can do next.  The passion and enthusiasm from our consultants has really brought these sites to life for me.  I hope through the developing projects with communities we can do the same for others, and at the same time update and enhance the historic record for the CAVLP area.



Another Day In The Life (Of An Archaeological Geophysicist)

When self-employed, a year just goes like that <clicks fingers>.

You may have read my Day of Archaeology blog post from last year.

I have since worked in a number of cemeteries searching for unmarked graves using geophysical methods. I spoke at the Cemeteries and Crematoria Association of Victoria conference in April (my first ever conference presentation) and am in the throws of writing my first paper about some work I did over the last year.

I have been undertaking geophysical surveys at the Creswick Cemetery (in Victoria, Australia) for the last year-and-a-bit, tracking down unmarked Chinese graves and an old homestead and associated features (rubbish pits, garden beds, etc.). In all this time, I have been able to test just about every geophysical method under the sun, and so am able to compare the effectiveness of certain methods at detecting certain types of archaeological features. I am hoping it will make a good read. Our data collection phase finished last week, so now it is (academic) reporting time. The client’s report has already been written and is publicly accessible for those interested.

Earlier this week, I had a computer issue and lost all of my tax data. Sadly, my taxes are due today. Hence, I spent the last four days doing nothing but my tax. Needless to say, this hasn’t been a very ‘archaeological’ week. Taxes were finished and submitted late last night, thankfully.

Today, though, I am driving back to Creswick, where three cemeteries nearby heard of my work and are interested in my surveying their empty land to look for any unmarked graves that may be present. Assessing each cemetery prior to providing them with a quotation will take me all of this weekend.

I have also branched out into geodetic surveying (i.e. creating maps of archaeological excavations and landscapes) using GIS, RTK GPS and robotic total stations. These technologies are certainly a far cry from the days of old, when we just used measuring tapes and a compass! I’ve also been using car- and tripod-mounted laser scanners to create full-colour three-dimensional models of archaeological sites, heritage structures and cemeteries (you’d be surprised by how many people want to look at what is written on headstones in a cemetery far, far away). I’m also looking into using airborne LiDAR for a major archaeological prospection project.

That’s about all for me for the year.

And, for those of you wondering, the big settlement project I was getting ready for last year ended up not getting any funding, so it didn’t happen. Anyone fancy donating some cash to the project?

Until next year… feel free to stalk me on my Facebook page , Twitter and my blog.

Live long and prosper.