The Pest Graves

The final minute in the Kirk-Session records regarding the Plague or Pest in Falkirk refers to the burial of those who fell victims to the scourge. It is dated October 3, 1647 and reads thus:

Report was maid, that the dyke built about the deid in ye Graemes Muir was sufficiently wrought, thairfor ordains to give John Tennant 12 lb.”

In 1646 this was a remote location on Graham’s Muir and accords well with the usual practice of burying those who died of plague in places apart from churchyards from an apprehension that the infection might burst out and spread if the graves should be re-opened.  So fearful were the superstitious elders that every means were taken to confine the evil.  Over each of the graves a broad flat stone was laid; and here again superstition prevented the inscribing of these memorials of the dead with either name or date.  Such was the feeling of dread attached to the place that if the flock of a careless shepherd chanced to wander among the luxuriant grass and rank waving nettles of that unhallowed and unconsecrated spot, that he dared not approach to drive them off, but contented himself by pelting them with stones from a distance, and the guidwife was sure to throw the unlucky milk of that day’s generating to the swine (Keir 1827).

One of the ironies of all this superstitious action is that the site chosen was not ideal because it lay in a crook of a burn which would have allowed some leachate to drain into it.  It soon got the name of the “Pest Burn.”

The recumbent slabs and the enclosing wall were removed around 1790 by Mr Dunn, the tenant of the field and the superstitious locals never failed to remark that “he never thrave after it.”   The memory of the site lingered on in infamy and in the late 1850s when the Ordnance Surveyors were mapping the area they wrote:

This place is now known as the ‘Pest Graves’, and has been pointed out by Mr Robert Galloway, farmer, who now occupies the field.  There is nothing on the ground at the present time to indicate the site, but the place is well known by parties residing in the neighbourhood.”

Illus: 1st Edition Ordnance Survey Map showing the location of the Pest Graves.

The ground became the property of Dr John Meek and it received the additional name of “Campfield.”  As the demand for feus rose the original name was quietly dropped from the titles.  The Pest Burn became an open sewer and was eventually covered over.

Today the site lies under housing on the north-west corner of the junction of Russel Street and George Street (contra James Love who places them on the north-east corner).

Pest Graves, Graham’s Muir     SMR 755         NS 8872 8049

G.B. Bailey, 2021