The Dundee Howff Cemetery - Dundee history

27 August 2014
imports_CESC_pict0437-16032_45517.jpg The Dundee Howff Cemetery - Dundee history
Karen Nichols of Scotia Heritage introduces a new project which is breathing life into the historic Dundee Howff Cemetery. ...

Karen Nichols of Scotia Heritage introduces a new project which is breathing life into the historic Dundee Howff Cemetery.

Dundee is establishing a restoration group aimed at revitalising decaying memorials and reuniting fragmented stones. The Howff is a former orchard of the Franciscan (Greyfriars) monastery the order of which was established by Dervorguilla, a 13th century Anglo-Saxon princess, whose grandfather bestowed the first church of St. Mary's upon the burgh in 1190.  Originally built north of the royal burgh and outwith its defensive walls the expansion of Dundee crept around its perimeter until it is now an oasis of peace at the heart of the city centre.


The site has associations with Robert the Bruce and Mary, Queen of Scots who, in September 1564, signed a charter granting the yards of the former Cordeliers to the royal burgh as a place of sepulchre. The first internment took place the following year. It is muted that the site is second in importance to Edinburgh's Greyfriars for the quality of its seventeenth century memorials. The source of this assertion is a question for the research group!

Since the Industrial Revolution the site is most associated with the Nine Incorporated Trades of Dundee. Howff means meeting place and it is from this period that the site gained its name. Many of the stones are carved with the emblems of these bakers, dyers and shoemakers. Although the Howff was closed to internments in 1857 a local MP, George Duncan, gained permission to be buried beside his wife. Therefore, Dundee's first MP to enter Westminster promoting reform for the working man was, appropriately, the last burial in a site that represents the working class.

The ravages of weather, time and diminishing local authority resources has taken its toll. Some memorials now need realigning or just a lick of paint. Others need professional intervention to stabilise and prevent further erosion.

The restoration group is fortunate in the volume of archival material to inform any decision related to the original condition and position of the stones. Due to its dilapidated condition, in 1834 the hospital master of the Royal Infirmary, Peter Dron, organised an aesthetic rearrangement of certain stones. As with so many burial sites areas were levelled by up to 5ft in order to extend its usefulness and its stones were numbered. 


A local antiquarian, Alexander Lamb, produced chronological and alphabetical indexes which are available to view in Dundee Local and Family History Library. In addition to their photographs of some of the more elaborate stones, later images exist from the early twentieth century. In 1923 Charles Lawson bequeathed images of some monuments to the library. These images show highly carved memorials to local families and graphically illustrate the effects of erosion not just from the 1830s but to the present time.

Combined with the index it will be possible to identify stones that cannot with certainty be identified today. In all, there can be few cemeteries with such a rich reference source. This project will expand the field of knowledge related to the site and be of abiding interest to those who are involved.

In 2014, 450 years after Mary, Queen of Scots granted the land as a place of sepulchre volunteers from all walks of life are supporting the restoration of this historic, peaceful, cemetery. By next year, it is hoped that the first signs of that restoration will be visible.

Should you have private information related to the site or believe you are a living heir to a stone that requires preservation please contact either Karen Nichols by e-mail or the group's secretary, Simon Goulding.

To keep up to date with the progress of the group please like its Facebook page. Of course, this project relies upon funding and we are asking any reader with a connection to the site or who just want to preserve a significant aspect of Dundee's heritage to donate at Just Giving's Dundee Howff restoration group.
Dundee Howff Cemetery, Meadowside, Dundee DD1 1LN


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