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St Cuthbert's Kirk (Church) Yard
Visitors to the large and extensive churchyard can ask a church
representative to locate someone - perhaps a distant ancestor - whose grave
they would like to visit. The grave number is in the index books and referred
to on the churchyard map.
The land lying immediately around the Church has been a place of Christian
burial for a thousand years.Only one stone, however, that of Rev Robert Pont,
who died in 1606, remains from earlier days. Except in unusual circumstances,
interments ceased at the end of the 19th century.
There is a record of over 1000 graves and this was the work of John Smith:
"Monumental Inscriptions in St Cuthberts Churchyard,
Edinburgh, compiled by John Smith, edited by Sir James Balfour Paul, CVO, LLD
The work came too late to record many of the inscriptions but enough remain
visible to reward the scrutiny of the interested visitor.
Dates of interest:
First intimation of a burying ground in Kirk Session minutes -
a small hill known as the Knowe south of the Church, was used.
It was a lonely spot where the Kirk lay, especially at night. Except for
one farm steading "there was neither hoose nor ha nor fire nor
candlelicht" between it and the villages which stood on the banks of the
Water of Leith.
Over a century later, this quiet location was to give scoundrels an
opportunity to dig up and steal the bodies of the dead, for which surgeons and
anatomists paid very handsomely.
Stone wall built to keep grazing horses and sheep out.
Ground added to the west.
Grave-robbing had become a frequent occurrence. Walls raised to
8 feet (2.5 metres).
Kirk Session appointed an officer to keep records of the dead.
Recorder used a lodge on the site of the present watchtower.
Several bodies illegally removed. A Beadle was suspected of
complicity and a furious mob burned his house. Both Beadles were removed from
North marsh drained to provide further land. Land to the
south-west was raised and walled in.
Regular watch appointed to guard the cemeteries at night to
Watchtower to south west built.This was done a little late,
however, because the long-running practice of body-snatching ceased within the
next ten years when the law changed to allow the donation of bodies to medical
Manse to south of Church demolished and garden incorporated
into a new burial area.
Churchyard extended by adding oddly shaped piece of wasteground
known as the Glebe.
In this year (and again in 1910), tunnel cut or extended
beneath the Churchyard to accommodate the railway line. This involved the loss
of stones erected between 1834 and 1841. No graves exist now over the tunnel.
Burials ceased at St Cuthberts, except in exceptional
circumstances.Upkeep of the Churchyard became the responsibility of City of
Edinburgh District Council.
Notable churchyard monuments include those to:
Rev Robert Pont (1524 - 1606)
This is probably the oldest surviving gravestone from the
graveyard. The Rev Robert Pont was a staunch ally of John Knox, and was present
at the first General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1560. He was
responsible for revising the first Book of Discipline (1561) and served as
Minister of Dunblane and Dunkeld, Provost of Trinity College (Edinburgh). As
Commissioner of Moray, Inverness and Banff, he was responsible for spreading
the Reformation to these areas.
In 1574, Pont was appointed the Minister of St Cuthbert's Church, and served
six times as Moderator of the General Assembly, through difficult times in
Scotland. His influence extended beyond the church; he was appointed a Senator
of the College of Justice in 1572. He accompanied the English Ambassador to
Stirling in 1578 to mediate in a power struggle between James Douglas, the 4th
Earl of Morton who had served as Regent, and Colin Campbell, 6th Earl of Argyll
, and John Stewart, 4th Earl of Atholl, which threatened to escalate into civil
war. Pont opposed the involvement of the Crown in the church and the suggestion
of an Episcopalian system.
Pont was greatly enthusiastic for a full union with England, publishing his
'De Unione Britanniae' a year after the Union of the Crowns.
John Napier (1550 - 1617)
(Memorial plaque in the entrance hall of the church) John
Napier is best known as the inventor of logarithms. (The development of
logarithms is given credit as the largest single factor in the general adoption
of decimal arithmetic. He also invented the so-called "Napier's
bones" and made common the use of the decimal point in arithmetic and
mathematics. Napier was buried without the West Port of Edinburgh in the Church
of St Cuthbert and in a vault, during April 1617.
Henry Nisbet Of Dean (d 1692)
The earliest known remains of one of the many church buildings
on this site, is the Nisbet of Dean vault, built in 1692 for Henry Nisbet. On
the outside of the north church wall, facing a flight of stairs leading to his
tomb, is Henry Nisbet's coat-of-arms. Above the entrance is an inscription in
Latin, which reads :
"Henry Nisbet of Dean, preferring Fame to Riches, and Virtue to Fame,
despising earthly things, and aspiring after Heavenly enjoyments, being mindful
of death and waiting for the resurrection, in his own life, and at his own
sight, caused build this sepulchral monument for him, in the year of our Lord
Henry Nisbet may have been exhibiting quiet humour, for his building of the
tomb resulted in heaps of unpaid bills and uncleared rubble in the church, both
of which were cleared only after a number of court cases. (John Nisbet of
Dirleton, a successor of Henry's, was prosecutor of the Covenanters at the end
of the 17th century, and author of 'Dirleton's Doubts'.)
Rev David Williamson (1636 - 1706)
Rev David Williamson is believed to be the 'Daintie Davie' of
Scots songs, and a seven times married Minister of St Cuthbert's. He was ousted
from the church in 1665 as a Covenanter. He then served as a Captain on the
rebel side at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge (1679). He was restored as minister
of St. Cuthbert's in 1689, and subsequently became Moderator of the General
Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1702.
Sir Henry Raeburn (1756 - 1823)
Sir Henry Raeburn was a Scottish portrait painter and
Scotland's first significant portrait painter since the Union to remain based
in Scotland. He served as Portrait Painter to King George IV in Scotland. He is
actually buried next door, in the Church of St John the Evangelist although
there is a record of him owning a burial plot in St Cuthbert's graveyard, and
there is a large memorial to him on the east wall of the graveyard.
Alexander Nasmyth (1758 - 1840) [No 917]
Alexander Nasmyth was a Scottish portrait and landscape painter
(a pupil of Allan Ramsay), also an architect, and inventor. His most notable
painting is probably the much-copied portrait of his fried Robert Burns, which
now hangs in the Scottish National Gallery. Although he began as a portrait
painter, eventually, his strong Liberal opinions offended many of his
aristocratic patrons in a politically charged Edinburgh, leading him to turn to
landscape painting instead. His landscapes are all of actual places, and
architecture is usually an important element. (Nasmyth's six daughters all
became artists. His eldest son, Patrick, studied under his father, then went to
London and attracted attention as a landscapist. Another son James, invented
the steam hammer.)
George Meikle Kemp (1795 - 1844)
George Meikle Kemp was a Scottish carpenter and master joiner, a
draughtsman, and a self-taught architect. He is best known as the designer of
the Scott Monument in central Edinburgh, although sadly he did not live to see
the completion of his great work. Kemp is also commemorated by a memorial at
Moy Hall, Redscarhead, (formerly the workshop of Kemp's master, Andrew Noble),
Thomas De Quincey (1785 -1859) [No 428]
Thomas De Quincey was an English essayist, and the author of
'Confessions of an English Opium-Eater'. Many scholars suggest that in
publishing this work De Quincey inaugurated the tradition of 'addiction
literature' in the West. As with many addicts, De Quincey's own opium addiction
may have had a 'self-medication' aspect for real physical illnesses, as well as
a psychological aspect He was an acknowledged influence on many later authors,
although he himself has largely slipped from fame. His immediate influence
extended to Edgar Allan Poe, Fitz Hugh Ludlow, Charles Baudelaire and Nikolai
Gogol, but even major 20th-century writers such as Jorge Luis Borges and Hector
Berlioz admired and claimed to be influenced by his work.
John Lizars (1787 - 1860) [No 631]
John Lizars was a surgeon. He served as a naval surgeon on a
ship commanded by Admiral Sir Charles Napier, and saw active service in
engagements during the Peninsular War. He returned to Edinburgh in 1814 and
began practicing surgery, while teaching anatomy and surgery. He went on to
serve as professor of surgery at Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and
senior surgeon at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, developing a number of new
procedures. In 1825, he became the first in Britain to successfully remove an
ovary. Around the same time he is known to have lectured the naturalist Charles
His most notable work was 'A System of Anatomical Plates of the Human Body',
published in five volumes between 1822 and 1826. Lizars is also remembered for
'The Use and Abuse of Tobacco' (1856), an early work identifying the dangers of
tobacco, including its carcinogenic nature.
Lizars had a long-running and bitter dispute with fellow surgeon James Syme,
which led to legal action between the pair on more than one occasion and was
eventually to damage Lizars's career.
James Findlay (1822 - 1862)
James Findlay enlisted in the Royal Artillery at the age of
nineteen. Transferring to the Land Transport Corps, he served in the Crimean
War as a transport officer. Re-joining the Royal Artillery, he became a Chief
Master Gunner, and worked with Professor Charles Piazzi Smyth and Frederick
James Ritchie to set up the One o'clock Gun time service. He was the first
gunner to fire the one o'clock gun from Edinburgh Castle.
Robert Tait McKenzie (1867 - 1938)
Robert Tait McKenzie was a Canadian-born sculptor, doctor,
soldier, physical educator, athlete and Scouter. During the First World War,
his methods and inventions helped to restore and rehabilitate those injured by
war, and have since provided a sound basis for the development of modern
physiotherapy practices. He created over two hundred works of art seen around
the world today.
Near the end of his life, McKenzie expressed a wish for his heart be buried
in front of the Scottish-American War Memorial in Edinburgh, that he had
created. When he died this request was denied by the city of Edinburgh, but his
heart was subsequently buried in St. Cuthbert's churchyard.
An on-line listing of the graves and gravestone
inscriptions in the churchyard is available HERE
(Please note this links to an external site - St Cuthbert's are not
responsible for the availability of the website or its content, and do not have
access to this document in any other format other than this link. St Cuthbert's
have no control or input to the document, and cannot attest to its accuracy.)
If you are researching your FAMILY HISTORY you can find
information on available resources HERE
Please note : St Cuthbert's do not store any
historical records. This means we are unable to assist with any historical or
family history enquiries
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St Cuthbert's Parish Church. 5 Lothian Road.
Edinburgh. UK. EH1 2EP