Family Tombs & Graveyards, Pest Graves and Miscellaneous Burials in the Falkirk District

Increased trade and commerce in the 18th century brought greater wealth and independence to the communities of central Scotland.   There was also an increase in self-awareness reflected in the religious values  and the eighteenth century saw three notable  splinters  from the  established  church which led to the establishment of the Erskine Church, the Relief Church, and the Reformed Church.  When Rev Henry Erskine , the first minister of the Erskine church in Falkirk, died in 1754 he had to be buried in the parish churchyard because the proposed burial ground in Silver Row was not ready (Kirk 1987, 14).  Likewise, the first minister of the Relief Church was buried in the parish churchyard in 1785 and it was only in about 1805 that permission was sought and obtained from the feudal superior to have an adjoining graveyard.   The first burial, that of Isabel Steel, took place with great ceremony.  In 1784 the Laurieston Reformed Presbyterian Church came into being and built its church in 1789 in James Street.  Their first minister was Rev John Reid of Bonnyhill.  Shortly before his death in 1820 he expressed the wish not to be buried in the parish churchyard but on his own estate beside the Rowantree Burn.  An enclosed family graveyard was then established there.

Other reasonably well-to-do dissenters likewise chose to be buried on their own land.   In 1750 the Spiers family of Lochgreen started their family plot in a favourite spot (Bailey 1993).   Lochgreen had been the site of one of the first meetings of the Erskine Church.   Other meetings had been held on the nearby farm of Woodend, and here we find the Scott family tomb, commenced in 1758.   There are several other similar ‘tombs’ in the triangle between Cumbernauld, Bonnybridge and Slamannan at Greenhill, Arns, Garbethill and Ballinkier.  These eighteenth century tombs all consist of a high stone wall surrounding a rectangular open courtyard of around 25 square metres.  The hinterland where they are found was riddled with covenanters in the previous century and these independently minded farmers clearly shunned the company of the established church whenever possible.  The Scott family, for example, responsible for the Greenhill Tomb in 1751, had refused to act against the covenanters.  John Scott of Seabegs was cited after the Battle of Bothwell for not attending the host and coming out against the rebels in accordance with his Majesty’s proclamation of 7 June 1679.

Illus: The Greenhill Tomb looking north-west.

The family tombs were intended to be used by succeeding generations of the same family and were established at a time when the farmers were confident in the tenure of the land.  Even when estates were sold the tombs tended to be retained by the relevant family, as can be seen in this 1835 example at Greenhill, known as Mary of Castlecary’s Tomb: “Reserving to Robert Scott of Glensyards and his heirs and successors the burying place in the said lands and the small plantation around the same enclosed from the other lands with access thereto when necessary.”  (Excerpt from Sasine in favour of James Marshall, Stirling 24th December 1835).

A somewhat aggrandised version of these walled tombs can be found a short distance to the north of Airth Parish Church.  Here the family burial plot of the Grahams was planted around 1814 shortly after the manse had been built but before the new church.  This was clearly an attempt to encourage the local population not to continue with their use of the old burial ground adjacent to the Graham family home at Airth Castle.

A somewhat different tomb can be found on the road from Airth to Airth Station.  Called ’Club’s Tomb’, it takes the form of a stone pyramidal roof raised on oval walls.   It is said to be the resting place of James Club who, in his will of 1757, wished to be buried in it with his dog, beyond the reach of the Resurrectionists.

Illus: The Forbes’ Mausoleum can be seen rising above the trees to the east of Callendar Wood.

The 19th century family graveyards tend to be laid down for the noble seats of the area.  Chief amongst these was the Forbes family of Callendar House.  Here too there is an independence from the established church for this family were Episcopalians.  The first William Forbes acquired the rights to the Livingston family vault at Falkirk Parish Church but clearly felt uncomfortable about using it.  Instead he permitted the remaining branches of that family to use it.  His own mausoleum near Callendar Loch is a triumph of the Classical revival and takes the form of a Doric temple.

There was also an Episcopalian motive behind the graveyard at Muiravonside Estate.  It was created in 1862 and consecrated by Charles Terrot, Bishop of Edinburgh.  Likewise, the Murray family mausoleum at Dunmore was consecrated by Bishop Lowe, the Bishop of Moray then acting for the Bishop of Edinburgh, and was first used for a burial in 1836.  In 1850 the Countess of Dunmore took the sacredness of the site one step further and built a church beside the mausoleum.  Presumably all of the earlier burial grounds already mentioned had also been consecrated by representatives of the various denominations.

One private burial ground that was certainly sanctified was that attached to the Priory at Manuel beside the River Avon.  It lay between the cloister and the river and was washed away in the flood of 1787.

Occasionally we get the odd individual burial at a private dwelling, such as that at Hallhouse.  Thomas Johnstone was a member of the parish church at Denny and his family were all buried in the churchyard there.  He, however, was so attached to Hallhouse that he did not wish to leave.  There may be another example of this phenomenon at Braes to the north of Denny where a recumbent stone can be found on the hill to the south of the mansion.  Just how common this was is now difficult to say as they were seldom recorded.  Two 18th century gravestones found at Grahams Road in Falkirk may fall into this category (see below).

Other isolated monuments were evidently the result of the need for social distancing due to infectious diseases.  The mid-17th century plagues spawned burials at the Plague Pits on Grahams Muir and the Plague Stone in Stenhousemuir.  The well-executed gravestone of Alexander Galbraith at Kinnaird must fall into this category.  A new graveyard was also created in the 1830s for a bad outbreak of cholera in Bo’ness.  The ground chosen on this occasion was the ash heaps from the adjacent saltpans at Corbiehall which had a certain antiseptic quality.  This was probably recognised by the reluctance of vegetation to grow on them.  Some decades later the graveyard, when it was considered safe, was put back into use to plug a gap in the provision of graves (Bailey 2002).

In December 1871 four children of the Campbell family of Millfield House along with their nanny died of an unknown infectious disease.  Due to the nature of the illness they were interred in a private cemetery at the northern end of the drive, well away from the big house.

Battle too left bodies behind but apart from the Soldier’s Stone at Bogton Road these do not fall within the scope of the present survey. 


I.  Family Tombs & Graveyards

The tombs described below include some that are just outwith the Falkirk district.  They are included as they are part of a wider regional group of unusual occurrence and provide comparative material.   They are arranged in the following order:

Those with enclosed courtyards tend to be of a similar size and range in date over a century as can be seen from this table:

Arns6.55 x 6.55S190
Babbithill3.81 x 3.60E3901851
Black Aggie’s5.7 x 4.15E4751819
Blackfaulds10.0 diaN3501839?
Garbethill5.6 x 5.05S150
Graham Family, Airth9.0 x 9.0SEc 1814
Lochgreen7.8 x 6.45S1551750
Mary of Castlecary3.72 x 5.10SE1551756
Woodend4.46 x 3.72SE3201758

Many were originally placed in pleasant, wooded enclosures with views across the neighbouring farmland, providing tranquil contemplative spaces.  Unfortunately, these idyllic settings have often been disrupted by modern building.  At the Graham Tomb in Airth a Scout hall was built a little distance to the east and when this was demolished a dwelling took its place even closer.

II.  Infectious Diseases


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Bailey, G.B. 2002‘The Graveyards of Falkirk : Part 6 Corbiehall,’ Calatria 16, 1-22.
Baird, H.1864Castlecary and the Great Roman Wall: their history, remains, and traditions.
Begg, W, Gordon, T, & Taylor, J.W1845‘Parish of Falkirk,’ New Statistical Account of Scotland.
Keir, R.1827“History of Falkirk” in The Falkirk Monthly Magazine.
Kirk, E.H.F.1987Annals of Erskine.
Love, J.1908Local Antiquarian Notes and Queries, Volume 1.
Love, J.1910Local Antiquarian Notes and Queries, Volume 2.
Antiquarian Notes and Queries.; Mr James J (jnr) Love; Woodlands Hill, 23 Neilson St Falkirk; 1920s
Reid, J.1991‘The Diary of Thomas Johnstone of Hallhouse,’ Calatria 1, 57- 95.
Waugh, J.1977Slamannan Parish Through the Changing Years.
Waugh, J.1981The Vale of Bonny in History and Legend.

G.B. Bailey, 2021