For a long time, I’ve been fascinated by the Kirkyard wall and the Wardrop Moore Arch, at Kirkton. So little has been written about this, and many mysteries remain, which I admit I don’t have all the answers. When was the wall originally built? Why was the earthworks raised inside the kirkyard? Why was the wall made taller? When did all these events happen. Tonight, I set about trying to make sense of it all, using known photos, pieced together in a timeline together with old maps. I hope I can put a clearer perspective on some of the events as follows.
First, there is an excellent and well known 2004 book about Blantyre History that unfortunately contain a few inaccuracies relating to this subject. The book eludes that in 1850 Wardrop Moore of Greenhall decided to rebuild the wall and dedicated the new arch within the wall. This could not have happened in 1850, as I will prove below although the arch patron is correct. The book also suggests that a trough within the arch was replaced by a later seat following demise of horse traffic, but I will show below that it was the other way around, i.e a seat first, later to become a trough, which only lasted a couple of decades and then was replaced by nothing. I should make clear at this point, I’m not out to prove any previously written words are incorrect, but I believe I have enough evidence to suggest matters occurred in a different chronological sequence or were to the contrary. Let me begin.
The first picture shows the old Church within the Kirkyard walls. This plate is known to be 1863, the same year the church was demolished. From old maps of the time the church door faced over down Hunthill Road and importantly the whole building appears to be on the same level as Main Street, the stone wall looking to be only around 4 foot high.
Next photo is dated 1880. Looking down Main Street, the vantage point is from outside the kirkyard gates. Just to the right of this photo is the kirkyard wall leaning in towards the road, quite dangerously. The date on the photo is reliable as a new water hydrant is shown in the foreground, after water was installed in this location in 1880. (By 1898 maps, the hydrant is gone , moved towards the wall). However, we see the wall is not 4 foot high, but closer to the 8 or 9 foot that it is today! This suggests to me that in the relatively short space of time between 1863 and 1880, the High Blantyre kirkyard was raised with additional earthworks inside the kirkyard itself, with a higher wall built to contain them. I have no supporting theory as to why this was done, as infilling on top of a burial site seems most unchristian like. My theory, if pushed about this, is that the foundations of the church and demolition rubble were likely left in situ in the graveyard with some additional earth brought in to build it up and decorate again. This may also explain why the headstone themselves are in poor condition. Alternatively the whole cemetery may have been a mound sloping from higher ground at the South, down towards Main street level at the North. Whatever the reason, the wall was rebuilt higher in that period and started to lean. The nearby large trees or pressing weight of so much additional earth was likely responsible for the tilt, although nearby mining activities underground at Dixon’s Pits or bad workmanship cannot be excluded as possibilities.
By the 1880’s something had to be done. The wall may actually have collapsed prompting that proposal. Colonel J Wardrop Moore of Greenhall was to step in and being a particularly wealthy man passionate about the welfare of Blantyre residents, he commissioned and built the Wardrop Moore Arch, integrating it into the new rebuilt wall. Contrary to suggestion, it was to be a resting seat, rather than a water trough. (There was already a nearby well in Douglas Street at the fountain in Main Street). The arch was built in 1885 something that is supported by the actual engraving that exists very faintly on it today.
This photo in 1905 in interesting as it was dated from the Cafe across the road, but interestingly shows that at least 3 people could sit on the stone seat within the arch. The water hydrant is now by this point adjacent to the arch itself, rather than in the road. The Kirk Wall is 9 feet high at the corner, the earthworks most definitely raised and the gates now 7 foot instead of 4. In the kirkyard itself in the background, and facing on to Douglas Street were small buildings. These were in a location that is now the modern cemetery. One of these homes belonged to Alexander Fairservice, a merchant originally from Hamilton. His daughter is buried in the cemetery near that spot.
This next photo is dated from 1912. I have zoomed in on what is quite a common Blantyre photo. When observed closely, there is scaffolding erected against the wall at the corner of the Kirkyard! I hadn’t noticed this before today. The stone seat is still visible in the Wardrop Moore Arch. I believe this picture may have been taken as it was capturing work in progress to rebuild or repair the wall, which certainly looks a very different colour from the arch, which was starting to weather. Again, I believe that the large tree roots are the likely cause. In the background the Fairservice house is gone from the kirkyard, but leaving a view open towards the raised tomb structure within the graveyard (visible far right of the 1912 photo). This tomb of the Blantyre Lords was located on the South West side of the older church and was retained for some time after this.
This next photo I believe is dated around the same time, I believe about 1915. The photographer is David Ritchie. The trees look similar both in fore and background. The buildings are the same. This photo is previously unpublished and an exclusive here in this article, shared by Alex Bowie. However, the seat within the arch has now become a water trough for horses, perhaps done in the interests of improving hygiene at the nearby drinking fountain. I agree fully that the water trough would have been removed due to the arrival of motorcars and the demise of the horse and cart. In any subsequent photo though, there is no replacement of any seat. The wall in this photo looks modern, vertical, straight and most definitely in new condition.
By the 1980’s the kirkyard and church walls were in a need for repair again. A team of volunteers from the Church set about to repair the walls, pictured here around 1988. Walls were rebuild with a slightly inward slant to future proof them, complete with weep holes for water to egress naturally.
Finally , I leave you with a modern photo of the Kirk Walls and Wardrop Moore Arch, captured by Jim Brown in 2007.