Towards the end of 1831 the Howff in Dundee, being the town’s principal cemetery was starting to struggle with overcrowding. The Town council being aware of this held a meeting on the 17th November that year, discussed at the meeting was the possibility of purchasing land currently occupied by Chapelshade Gardens, this area was being used for allotments. The proposal was for the land to be laid out as a cemetery following the style of the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. (Lamb and Millar, 1908)
There was no further progress made with pushing the plan forward, and into 1832 the town was struck down with Cholera, this put additional strain on the already overwhelmed Howff burial ground. It wasn’t until a meeting held on the 11th October 1833 that a committee report recommended that “ground should forthwith be set apart for a new burying ground, pointing out the westward of Constitution brae, as the most eligible spot”. (Lamb and Millar, 1908) The motion was pushed through with a fifteen to one majority, the current dire situation in the Howff forcing their hand. Further to this the council agreed to have a competition with the successful candidate being paid £5 for their plan of the burial ground.
Nothing further happened for a period of time, this may have been in part due to the current improvement plan being executed in the Howff by Hospitalmaster Mr Peter Dron. It wasn’t until the 6th January 1835 at a council meeting that Mr Dron himself stressed “opening the New Burying ground, which would be required almost immediately”. (Lamb and Millar, 1908)
The laying out of the ground was carried out by James R Findlater, Civil Engineer and Architect, he also designed the Western cemetery on the Perth Road in Dundee.
The following article was published in the Dundee Advertiser on the 18th December 1835 :-
Sealed offers may be lodged with William Barrie, Town Clerk, Dundee.
Dundee, December 17, 1835. (Offers Wanted, 1835)
Looking towards Dundee Royal Infirmary from near the north gate. ©Dundee Leisure & Culture
The burial ground opened at the beginning of April 1836, with the first burial taking place on the 6th, being a Margaret Mill in plot No.651. By the 29th of April 1836 laying out of the ground was starting to make some progress. A section of the ground some eighty yards square had been enclosed with a wooden fence to allow for interments to be carried out whilst work was still on going in the remainder of the ground. The first 100 yards of the east wall had its foundations in situ, this wall was to be built to the height of ten feet to allow for the erection of vaults, catacombs and tablets. The main gate was to be set in the east, with two smaller gates to the north and south. The burial ground had been marked out in spaces measuring 8ft by 7ft for the erection of headstones and other plots being 12ft by 8ft to allow for the erection of “monuments of a superior order” (New Burying Ground, 1836) “The charges and regulations for interments is to be the same as in the Houff. Between each of these ranges for family burying places a range of the same extent is appropriated for the interments of those whose circumstances prevent them from being purchasers ; by which arrangement the rich and the poor in this cemetery will literally meet together. The walks and borders are to be planted with ornamental trees, shrubs, and flowers, of as great variety and beauty as can be selected. The surface of the ground is to be made as varied and undulating as practicable ; and from the immense quantity of soil already laid down, something very picturesque and beautiful may be expected.”
Plan of the burial ground*
By December of 1836 a more overall picture of the burial ground plan becomes apparent, the local press had stated when completed it would “form an Arboretum and Fructicetum” (New Burying Ground, 1836) with botanical specimens being selected that were more hardy to the Scottish climate, with the planting being in “accordance to the botanical arrangement of Jussieu", Bernard de Jussieu being a French botanist who was known for his methods of plant classification.
From the main gateway on Constitution road, the road formed an oval of 60 feet by 40 feet, this was to allow for the hearse to come in off the public road, the oval area was to be planted with fir, yew and cyprus trees. The circular walks divided the ground into six sections, with varying sizes and elevation. The walks edges were marked out with 5ft borders to allow for the planting of flowers and shrubs.
In 1837 some of the more affluent people of Dundee made donations of some 180 different plants and flowers, “we may mention amongst those who have contributed in the was, Mr Baxter of Ellengowan, Mr Martin of Roseangle, and Messrs D.&E. Urquhart of Blackness Nursery, the Earl of Camperdown, and Lord Kinnaird; and Mr. A. Gowrie of Annat Gardens”. (New Burying Ground, 1837)
Cropped image of the north gate from 1906, Alexander Wilson Collection, ©Dundee Leisure & Culture
June of 1838 saw the erection of the main gates to the burial ground, these had been designed by J.R Findlater and were described as having a central casting of the towns arm, a shield was also featured, along with the funeral emblem of a reversed torch, the ornament was of an “antique design of a vulture surrounded with a wreath” (New Burying Ground, 1838) with the lower part having a Grecian border.
Example of text written on tallies. Dundee Advertiser 10th Aug 1838 (Microfilm)
By August of 1838 the planting had become well established with the burial ground becoming a popular destination for locals enjoying the space, each tree had “tallies of patent zinc written with ink that resists the action of the atmosphere” (New Burying Ground, 1837) Each sign had the botanical, common name and the family it belongs to, they also contained information for their full grown height, the height when planted and the date. The shrubs planted between the trees also had zinc tallies “of rather a different appearance.” The work was undertaken by Daniel Urquhart of the Blackness Nursery.
A cropped image dated from around 1903 with a view of a wide planting border. ©Dundee Leisure & Culture
A mortuary was built at the south side of the burial ground, however the exact details of the structure still have to be determined.
According to the burial registers, general burials ceased within the ground at the beginning of June 1864, however the ground wasn't officially closed until 1871 by Order in Council, with burials after 29th May 1871 being restricted to “Lair Owners or of their Spouses; and except for the burial of the Widows, Widowers, Parents, or Unmarried Brothers and Sisters or Children of the Lair Owners.” (Helps, 1871)
Despite the closure, a further 420 interments were to take place, until the last, being a cremation urn for the remains of Elizabeth Just Niven on the 29th March 1938 in plot 438-2.
Towards the end of the 1950s and into the early 1960s the streets of Dundee were unable to cope with the increased use of motor vehicles. Many of the older buildings in the city were in poor condition, with some housing being deemed uninhabitable. Dundee Town Council put a plan into action to begin remodelling the city, mostly through the acquisition and demolition of areas with the aim of building new infrastructure.
Unfortunately one of the casualties of this rebuilding plan was the re-use of the Constitution Road burial ground. A special committee was appointed in October of 1961 and a decision was made to acquire the New Howff for the use of parking facilities. Local church Ministers were said to “feel there is nothing sacrilegious about the conversion” and that “They feel that all old graveyards must eventually be put to some other use and that in this case the decencies have been observed”. (Burial Ground as Car Park Proposal, 1962)
A meeting was held by the Parks Committee on the 14th November 1961, the conclusion of which was a recommendation that a portion of the burial ground be used for the construction of the inner ring road, with the rest of the ground for the use as a car park. (Town Council Minutes, 1961-1962)
By March of 1962 Dundee Town Council had proceeded with an application to the Secretary of State for permission to use the burial ground in connection with the inner ring road and parking accommodation. (Move to use burial ground for parking., 1962)
In early May of 1962 preliminary permission had been approved by the Department of Health of Scotland for the burial ground to be cleared, with the understanding that the trees would be retained and part of the ground be set aside as a park. (Scotland, 1962)
By June of the same year proposals for the final resting place of remains still hadn’t been finalised, the corporation held ground at Kingsway East, which was being let as allotments (Old Craigie Road). At a meeting of the Parks Committee a proposal to use this land was opposed by the Treasurer P.M. Doig as the business Lomax & Smith LTD had expressed an interest. Parks Convener Mr Alexander Soutar, said they needed the ground themselves for the remains from Constitution Road. However being a “valuable site for industrial purposes” Mr Doig said he would move against any recommendation. The matter was to then be referred to a sub-committee. (New Burial Place Opposed, 1962)
The following was published in the Dundee Courier on the 8th August 1962. “The old burial ground in Constitution Road. Dundee, will soon be a car park. Arrangements have been made to re-inter remains in the Eastern burial ground in a part specially set aside for the purpose if relatives or personal representatives do not wish to do this themselves.”
On the 14th August the Old Craigie Allotments Association appealed to the Dundee Parks Committee to spare 22 plots, as Mr Dow, Parks superintendent wished to take them over to reinter the remains of 10,000 bodies. The area in question extended to approximately two acres. He said “quite a number of people were interested and proposed to have their relatives’ remains transferred.” He also stated “he had gone into the matter very thoroughly and, as far as he could see, the allotments ground, adjacent to the west side of the Eastern Cemetery, was the only ground available. Owing to recent housing developments there was insufficient land now available in the region of Balgay.” The Allotments Association wanted assurance that every avenue had been explored as they only had 76 allotments for the east end of the city and they had a long waiting list. The Lord Provost, Mr McManus suggested that if it was so desperate that they required the use of allotments for this purpose, then perhaps 50-60 acres should be acquired for a new cemetery, however this may take years, and would hold up the current car parking problem. (Remains of 10,000, to be reinterred., 1962)
Following a visit made to the Old Craigie Road allotments, and at a further meeting held on the 24th of August, a decision still hadn’t been reached as to the use of this area for re-interments with motions for and against. Although consideration was still to be made for those remains requiring removal to allow construction of the inner ring road. (Town Council Minutes, 1962-1963)
August of 1962 also saw a notice published in the local press asking those that still had rights over plots within the ground, if they would require to have the relevant monument and remains removed to one of the other city burial grounds. Each memorial was painted with a white number to help with identification, this numbering system was also used for the basis of the monumental inscription listing held by Dundee City Archive.
Cropped image of the monument to David Ritchie (Plot No.652) with its white painted identification number "56". ©DC Thomson & Co. Ltd
By the 11th of September a sub-committee had reached an agreement that the Old Craigie Allotments should not be used to re-inter the remains from the burial ground and that the Town Clerk and Parks Convener should look for an alternative place for the remains. There were fears that the decision would “wreck the plans the corporation had agreed to for the inner ring road”. However, the construction of the ring road could not proceed within the next couple of years. It was then decided “that the Constitution Road cemetery would be converted into a car park” and that “the vast bulk of disinterments were not for the inner ring road”. “The other part is going to be a very costly car park when you realise the cost of disinterring and re-interring, plus the fact it is on a gradient and will require a lot of making-up.” “ The public would be against us for putting out these allotment holders just to make a car park" . Bailie O’Neil said the corporation had come to a decision about the cemetery without actual knowledge of what was involved. “ When the proposal was made to make that car park, we had no idea that it would be two years before the, inner ring road could go through. We had no idea there were 10,000 bodies to be disinterred. We took a decision almost blindly don't let us rigidly adhere to it.” (The Fate of the Proposed Car Park, 1962)
Into October the question of what to do with the remains was still not answered, to the point where a request in the minutes had been made to the Corporation to reconsider their decision to form a car park. (Cemetery's Future, 1962)
By March 1963 the car park had been given the go ahead. The costs involved with removing the bodies to elsewhere had proved too much to be justified, and so for the time being they were left in situ. Arrangements were being made with the Parks Department about the removal of headstones and for the layout of a screen of trees or bushes. It was estimated that only 2 feet of soil would need to be removed to fill in ground hollows, thus avoiding the disturbance of any remains. The car park was to have a temporary surface for the first year, to allow for the ground settling, then it was to be tarmacked. (Dock Car Parks Close Tonight, 1963)
On the 11th of April 1963 the Parks Department erected large canvas screens in the burial ground, behind the screens testing was performed on the higher ground to determine the amount of top-soil that could be removed before coming upon human remains. (Graveyard Tests, 1963)
The images below show a bulldozer beginning the levelling out of the burial ground.
©DC Thomson & Co. Ltd. Reproduced with kind permission.
©DC Thomson & Co. Ltd. Reproduced with kind permission.
©DC Thomson & Co. Ltd. Reproduced with kind permission.
By mid May the clearance of the burial ground had begun, a bulldozer was moved in to begin levelling the ground and start the removal of headstones. The car park was partially completed and opened for vehicle access on the 7th of June. Around a quarter of the area was available initially, with space for 80 cars, access was available from Bell Street, Constitution Street and Dudhope Crescent Road. The surface being made of chips and ashes, it was estimated that a further two weeks work was required to bring the car park to its full capacity of 350 vehicles, with the tarmac being applied at a later date. (Burial Ground Now Car Park, 1963)
A rather bleak looking view of the carpark from 1972. Ref: DCC-BW054-01 reproduced with kind permission of Dundee City Archive.
The car park remained in use until the 16th October 1972, when it was closed to allow the construction of a multi-storey car park on the site with space for 900 cars. After the closure of the car park, things tend to get a little murky, records relating to the burial ground are very few and far between. The contract for the multi-storey car-park at a cost of £500,000 was awarded to Charles Gray (Builders) Ltd. The exhumations were carried out by the Parks Department within the first couple of months of closure, a large wooden fence had been erected around the ground. With the remains being moved to a common plot in the Eastern Necropolis. Some of the spoil from the cemetery was said to have been sent to the Riverside Reclamation site. Unfortunately most of the information surrounding this period tends to be hearsay with no supporting documentation, and a Freedom of Information request turning up no new leads.
What is known is that in December of 1972 during the exhumation of burials from the cemetery a decision had been made to open one of the west wall vaults. The vault contains lead coffins, the Medical Officer of Health, Dr Iain Weir had raised concerns over the possibility of Cholera or contained infections in the coffins. The three images below show the coffins in situ within the vault. Correspondence with Dr A.G. Scott from the University of Dundee advises that after the images were taken the vault was infilled with dry sand. There is no indication to say that the coffins were removed, suggesting that they are still there to this day.
Image Ref: MS111/8/5/q
Image Ref: MS111/8/5/r
Image Ref: MS111/8/5/s
The above images show the coffins in situ, these were reproduced with kind permission of the University of Dundee Archive
Construction of the multi-storey had fallen behind schedule by July of 1973 due to industrial disputes. Work wasn't completed until 1974, with the opening performed by the Lord Provost Tom Moore on the 23rd of August.
A view of the construction site from Dudhope Crescent Road, 1973. Ref: DCC-BW129-15 reproduced with kind permission of Dundee City Archive.
Bell Street Multi-Storey carpark (right) access/exit spiral ramps and Inner Ring Road taken viewed east from the west wall, 2022.
During excavation work in 1996 for construction of the Abertay University library building on the southern side of the old burial ground, human remains were discovered. Eyewitnesses claimed that "bags of bones" were seen. (Claim that bones are being dumped denied, 1996) The contractor had been assured that the site had previously been cleared, however it appears that there were and possibly still are remains lying in situ. The remains which were discovered were transported by the Environment and Consumer Protection department to the Eastern Cemetery for reburial.
Commemorative stone marking one of the common burial areas within the Eastern Cemetery.
"Gone but not Forgotten.
This commemorative stone is dedicated to the memory of those who were buried in Common Grounds of the Eastern Cemetery in unmarked graves.
Records show burials took place between 1863 and 1981"
Thankfully before the site was cleared some 270 memorials were transcribed, these have been added to their relevant plots in the database and are reproduced here with very kind permission of Dundee City Archive.
Also added to their relevant plots are inscriptions from a transcribed copy of Sidney Cramer's notebook, Old Bell Street, Dundee [TD73/8/1]. Sidney recorded around 300 memorials in the 1950s. They are reproduced here with kind permission of the Scottish Genealogy Society, Edinburgh.
Image showing an overall view of the burial ground (date unknown). Reproduced with permission of Dundee City Archives.
The above image was taken from the Bell Street Multi-Storey carpark, showing how the area looks today, 2002.
'Burial Ground as Car Park Proposal', Dundee Courier, 08 August 1962.
'Burial Ground Now Car Park', Dundee Courier, 08 June 1963.
'Claim that bones are being dumped denied', Dundee Courier, September 1996.
'Cemetery's Future', Dundee Courier, 04 October 1962.
'Dock Car Parks Close Tonight', Dundee Courier, 09 March 1963.
'Graveyard Tests', Dundee Courier, 12 April 1963.
Helps, A. (1871) 'Order in Council', 16 May 1871. A/3/3 Constitution Road Burial Ground, Dundee City Archive.
Lamb, A.C. and Millar, A.H. (1908) Annals of Dundee, Extracts from the "Dundee Advertiser" 1801-1840, Dundee.
'Move to use burial ground for parking.', Dundee Courier, 02 March 1962.
'New Burial Place Opposed', Dundee Courier, 13 June 1962.
'Local Intelligence, New Burying Ground', microfilm, Dundee, Perth, and Cupar Advertiser, 29 April 1836.
'Local Intelligence, New Burying Ground', microfilm, Dundee, Perth, and Cupar Advertiser, 30 December 1836.
'Local Intelligence, New Burying Ground', microfilm, Dundee Advertiser, 17 November 1837.
'Local Intelligence, New Burying Ground', microfilm, Dundee Advertiser , 10 August 1838.
'Local Intelligence, New Burying Ground', microfilm, Dundee, Perth, and Cupar Advertiser, 06 June 1838.
'Offers Wanted', Dundee, Perth, and Cupar Advertiser, 18th December 1835.
'Remains of 10,000, to be reinterred.', Dundee Courier, 15 August 1962.
Scotland, D.o.H. (1962) 'Dundee Corporation (Consolidated Powers Order) 1957 Disused Burial Grounds', 14th May 1962. A/3/3 Constitution Road Burial Ground, Dundee City Archive.
'The Fate of the Proposed Car Park', Dundee Courier, 12 September 1962.
Town Council Minutes. Parks Committee, 11th September 1962 Article IV Constitution Road Cemetery – use of Old Craigie Road allotments. Dundee, 1962-1963. —. Parks Committee, 14th November 1961 article X. Dundee, 1961-1962.
* Burial ground plan Dundee - Sheet LIV.5.24. Surveyed: 1871, Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland and under Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) licence.
Thank you to Iain Flett, Dundee Central Libraries Local History Section, Dundee City Archives, D.C. Thomson Archives and Dundee University Archives for their assistance and putting up with my constant emails.
Copyright 2001-2022 Darren Eyers FSA Scot, no part of this site may be reproduced without permission from the author or respective copyright holders. Material relating to the Lamb Collection is ©Libraries, Leisure and Culture Dundee, Local History Centre and is reproduced with kind permission. Material resourced from Dundee City Archives is ©Dundee City Archives and is reproduced with kind permission.