Desecration of Parish Churchyard

Back now to a favourite subject of mine, the Parish Churchyard at Kirkton. I’ve been looking into events which caused a controversy way back in 1892.

Back in that decade was a time before Douglas Street had been named. Actually , then it was called Priestfield Street. (Neil Douglas, the colliery cashier at Dixon’s was likely the man who gave his name to Douglas Street. He lived nearby but didnt pass away until 1912).

Priestfield Street , as it was known then, was a street running down from Kirkton Cross towards Sydes Brae and on to Hamilton.

During mid October 1892, a considerable amount of gruesome feeling prevailed amongst the inhabitants of Blantyre when it became known that contractors were employed at the widening of the road at Kirkton Cross had commenced to take down the churchyard wall and remove a considerable portion of the cemetery ground. Indeed work was already underway doing this during October 1892.

It should be explained that the level of the churchyard at this point , as it is today, was something like eight feet above the level of the roadway, and owing to the entrance of Priestfield Road/Douglas Street being somewhat narrow, it was decided to widen it.

With the advance view to doing this, application was made in January 1892 to the heritors of the Parish Church, and strange to say the County Council gave permission to remove something like forty feet long, averaging seven feet wide, and eight feet high of the old parish burial ground.I have marked the portion of cemetery land removed on this 1898 map, which also showed a dotted line for the former wall.

When work got underway, the kirkyard wall was demolished along Douglas Street, from the point at the Wardrop Moore Arch, along 40 feet down Douglas Street. Contractors then dug in 7 foot by the eight feet high and removed the earth. Given the lack of earth moving equipment in those days, I sincerely believe that consecrated ground was disposed off actually within the current cemetery, raising the ground a little more here and there within the kirkyard itself, losing 2,200 cubic feet of earth.

Quite a number of the residents visited the spot as spectators and I’m sure it must have been a talking point, but a long barricade was erected to screen the operations of the contractors from view. This was after all, digging up an old cemetery. Who the proprietors of the lairs in question was not known, but it was evident from the fact that not the slightest vestige of a coffin had been discovered, that no recent burial had ever thankfully, taken place at this spot. Notwithstanding this, the finer feelings of the residents were affected by the desecration that had been enacted in their midst. By 21st October 1892, just a week after the earth had been removed, the new stone wall (the current one that exists) had been completed.

1892 road widening Kirkton

Ref Hamilton Herald. 21/10/1892.

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