Religion - Old Kirk Yard
The Old Kirkyard
The Kirk and Boundary Walls
Stones of Historical Importance and Local
Manse Road Cemetery
Reconstruction of Old Kirk
The Old Kirkyard
Located on the crest of the Avon valley, the
kirkyard is exposed to ever changing environmental conditions in
Scotland. The graveyard possesses a great variety of monuments, some of
historical significance, some of great sorrow and others of amusement
and intrigue. Together they provide a greater insight and understanding
of the people who inhabited the village in the past.
The earliest recorded burials are those
of the Bronze Age
(c4000-1200BC). These stone mounds, or cairns, contained earthen pots
(beakers), in which the cremated ashes of the dead were placed. In some
instances the deceased was only buried beneath the surface of the
burial mound. Several such sites are to be found in the parish of
Stonehouse, such as Cairncockle. These cairns are well documented in
Early Christian missionaries, such as Ninian, travelled around Scotland
building churches and preaching the word of God. Some of these churches
were established on pagan sites of religious importance, such as
standing stones. This
practice was common in causing as little
disruption to the pagan way of life, while phasing out the old forms of
pagan worship. Many Christian festivals and annual celebrations of
today, relate to events of the pagan calendar. December 25th originates
from the Roman Winter festival of Saturnalia and April 1st is the
Spring festival of Lud, pagan god of humour.
One method of discovering an ancient site of historical, or religious
importance, is that of plotting ley-lines. These are imaginary lines
discovered around 1920, whereby two or more lines crossing in a
cemetery, indicate a good probability that the site was of historical
antiquity long before the present site was used as such.
In many kirk yards throughout Scotland, standing stones and other
prehistoric finds have been found. Around 1937 a prehistoric burial
cist was said to have been discovered within the walls of the old kirk,
though I can find no other references of the find in our National
museums. However, its presence if correct, would suggest that the old
kirkyard may have been a prehistoric site of religious significance,
long before the present church was established. That being the case, it
would not be unthinkable to presume that other such burials exist here
undiscovered. The word ‘cist’ is an old Scots word for chest, or
coffin. The earliest recorded burial around a church is thought to date
to at least 752AD at Whithorn, Wigtownshire, where it is said an area
of about 30 feet around the kirk was secured for the purpose of burials.
Prior to the Reformation of 1560, burials within churches and kirkyards
were mainly confined to the local lairds, his immediate family,
ministers and the well to do. Parishioners, with the consent of the
landowner had the right to be buried in the church or kirkyard. The
poor of the parish were buried outwith the kirkyard and without a
burial stone, while outsiders had to obtain the consent of the heritors
to do so. Following the Reformation the General Assembly of the Church
of Scotland in 1588 made it illegal for burials within church buildings.
Parishes were established around the Middle Ages, created on an
ecclesiastical basis around the church. The parishioners were
responsible for paying a tax, which was collected by the clergy and
provided for the maintenance of the church buildings and the priest.
Known as a ‘tithe’, or ‘teind’, this was sometimes paid in livestock or
manual labour. This usually represented a tenth of a parishioners
income. The laird, under the feudal system of land tenure was
responsible for providing a church for his tenants to worship. It later
became common practice among the lairds to gift these churches to the
Abbey’s and Cathedral’s of the diocese. By the time of the Reformation
85% of the churches had been gifted by local landlords.
In 1368 Archibald, Earl of Douglas erected Bothwell Church and united
the ‘teinds’ of Stonehouse, Hessildene and Kittymuir for the upkeep of
the three prebendaries in his Collegiate Church. Thereafter, the kirk
in Stonehouse was reduced to the level of a vicarage, served by vicars
supplied from Bothwell. The lands for these vicars lay between the
village and the Avon, and was known locally as ‘Viccars land’, thus the
present ‘Vicars Road’.
After the establishment of the reformed religion in 1560, Scotland was
divided into five districts, over which superintendents were allotted
to look after the spiritual interests of the people. A number of
parishes were combined and placed under the charge of a minister and
under him a class of probationer styled readers. One was appointed to
each parish to read common prayer and scriptures, until such times as a
suitable minister could be found. The first reader in the parish of
Stonehouse was William Hamilton in 1560. Only a year later the vicarage
of Stonehouse was given up by the provost of Bothwell.
The coming of the Reformation saw the destruction of many religious
buildings prior to 1560, of which only a few survive today. It also
brought about changes in the practices and customs of burials
throughout Scotland. The local lairds had the first choice of the
burial plots, whilst the parishioners in order of their descendance
from the laird chose their plots respectively. The parishioners began
to mark these burial sites with simple headstones, which over the years
led to more elaborate stone carvings. This in turn led to a boom in
business for local stonemasons, of which there were many in Stonehouse.
To prevent any conflict over ownership of the family plots, cemetery
plans were created, with each plot numbered and measured in relation to
adjacent features within the kirkyard. Most plots were numbered on an
East-West axis, with the headstones at the West of the plot facing
east. This practice was common place; the reason being that it is
believed the Lord’s second coming will be from the East as the sun
rises and thus welcoming his arrival.
No pre-Reformation memorials are visibly present in Stonehouse kirkyard
today, the oldest stone being that of James Hamilton in 1651, not
Andrew Hamilton of 1663, as stated in ‘Damn few an’ they’re a’ deid’.
Both individuals are mentioned on the same ‘cope’ stone (130).
The term ‘cemetery’ means a place of burial for all denominations. At
present the local authorities are responsible for the ground
maintenance of cemeteries throughout Scotland, though they are not
liable for the condition of the monuments, or family lairs. The
headstones are the responsibility of the family descendants, even if
they have emigrated and despite the historical significance of some
headstones. However, some councils such as the former Hamilton District
Council were supportive of projects to preserve and restore graveyards.
Local authority planning departments have the legal authority to build
on cemeteries, removing the contents of such, except those of
historical importance, provided it advertises its intentions to do so
locally and there are no objections from the families of the interred.
The Kirk and Boundary Walls
The word ‘Kirk’ is a corruption of ‘Kil’, a type of subterranean vault
or ‘cell’ where early missionaries were said to meditate and preach.
The origins of the Stonehouse kirk are said to date to the 9th century
but the first reference I can find dates to 1267, when Sir Roger, ‘the
rector’ is recorded in association with the church of Stonehouse.
Restored in 1734, the kirk fell into disrepair during the latter half
of that century, around the time of the construction of the new church,
in New Street in 1772. The fallen remains may have been used to assist
in the building of the new church, or used in the construction of the
nearby Manse and surrounding walls. Built in 1761 the Manse was later
upgraded in 1781, 1806, 1816 and 1905. The use of gravestones and ruins
to build other structures was not uncommon. Previous restoration work
can be clearly identified in what remains of the kirk. Recent
preservation work in 1993 is more visibly apparent in the belfry.
Ornate decoration can be seen in the pillar sections supporting the top
piece of the bell tower and the overhanging edge of the remains.
Many parish churches, such as the old kirk, possessed a belfry where
you will often find a groove worn in the stone bell tower. This was
caused when the bell ringer pulled the rope against the gable end of
the church. The bells themselves were rung as a warning of attack,
mourning, call to service, or occasionally as a means of timekeeping.
The old kirk belfry is typical of other 17th century churches in
Scotland, though the former adjoining walls of the belfry tower may
have been considerably older, possibly 16th century. As Stonehouse kirk
predates Glassford kirk, built in 1633, this theory is most likely. An
inner structure is visible on the East facing wall of the belfry ruins.
Whether or not this was internal roof supports, incorporated into the
church, or part of an older, previous church, is uncertain.
A quote from a newspaper in the 1860’s, as contained in ‘Damn few an’
they’re a’ deid’, describes the inside of the church in some
detail. The building before its demise was said to have been a long
narrow structure with an open roof, with no ceiling or seats. The
pulpit was located against the south wall, midway along the building,
with the bell tolled from within. The article refers to parishioners
“finding their own stools, like Jenny Geddes”. Jenny Geddes was a
member of the congregation at St. Gile’s Church, Edinburgh, where she
was said to have thrown her stool at a minister who had been preaching
under the authority of Scottish Bishops.
Classified as a ‘B’ listed monument, with the graveyard in 1971, the
remains of the old kirk stand today as the oldest historic building in
our parish. Further references are given in the ‘Time line’ of the
church, as described in ‘Damn few an’ they’re a’ died’. Across the
valley, three standing stones in the parish of Glassford can be seen
from the cemeteries northwest corner. I believe that several thousand
years ago such stones existed under the site of Stonehouse old kirkyard.
The surrounding West, North and East walls would appear to have been
built separately from the South wall adjoining the manse. In my opinion
they would appear to be more recent than the manse wall and urgently in
need of repointing and repair after several attacks of vandalism.
Whether or not the walls were constructed from the ruins of the kirk, I
am uncertain, but the wall surrounding the manse is most certainly
constructed of materials from a previous structure, possibly the old
kirk, or an earlier manse. The manse wall bounding the kirkyard is a
combination of red sandstone and ironstone and would appear to be older
than the other walls and the watchhouse. On studying the manse walls,
they too have been repaired on several occasions. The entrance gate
pillars of the manse and kirkyard are almost identical in design,
though the pillars of the kirkyard do not retain the top stones of the
Stones of Historical Importance and
Covenanter burials are numerous throughout South West Scotland and
Stonehouse is no exception in this respect. Our village lies in the
heart of Covenanting country and many
of her sons, and indeed
daughters, were to die in the cause of religious freedom. The exploits
of those who fought and were persecuted are well documented in ‘Wha’s
like us?’, of which, several are said to be interred in the old kirk
The sole surviving monument is that of James Thomson of Tanhill,who
to die from his wounds, inflicted at the Battle of Drumclog in 1679.
The stone was only erected in 1734, for to commemorate such a martyr in
this period would have been dangerous in itself. The original headstone
is still in fairly good condition and was renewed by his descendents in
1832, in the form of a table stone. The original memorial is also known
locally as the ‘Bloodstone’. This extract from ‘Wha’s like us?’ tells
the eerie tale of how the headstone was to come by its unusual name;
“Told to me many years
ago, I neither believed the story, nor found
evidence of its existence, until of late. As a child I had been told of
a gravestone in the old cemetery with a hole in it, whereby inserting
ones finger in this hole, it was said to come out covered in blood! I
dispelled this as a myth until out walking one Summers day in the
cemetery. To my amazement and by shear coincidence, I found the said
hole in a headstone, more commonly known as the Covenanters’ stone. The
hole is located on top of the headstone, directly below the mouth of a
carved skull. When I found the headstone I immediately remembered the
tale told to me as a boy and hesitantly stuck my finger into the hole.
Pulling out my finger, it was indeed red, not with blood but with red
ochre dust. This is due to a vein of red ochre running through the
sandstone within the headstone. When raining, however, the red ochre
could give the impression of ‘blood’ to the younger and more
Another supporter of the Covenant to be buried in the kirk grounds was
Margaret Law of
Loudon, wife of prominent covenanter John Nisbet of
Hardhill. After suffering great hardship whilst in hiding near
Hazeldean, (possibly with John Robertson), Margaret Law and her
daughter died of starvation in 1683. John Nisbet carried her lifeless
body to the kirk to be buried, where the minister at the time (possibly
Rev. John Oliphant), refused to allow the burial of his wife and
daughter in the cemetery. However, after being threatened by a local
mob, the minister was forced to let the burial go ahead. There is no
memorial present within the kirkyard but her faith and adherence to her
husband and religious beliefs, will long be remembered in the
Covenanting history of our parish.
Although not buried in the cemetery, James Robertson of
Hazeldean had a
connection with the kirk in so much as he was reported to have affixed
a paper, in defence of the Covenant, to the door of the old parish kirk
in 1680. A staunch supporter of the Covenant, he was to meet his death
at the Grassmarket in Edinburgh, where he was hanged along with his
friend John Findlay.
In June 1880, Rev. Laing of the Free
Church officiated at a gathering
of 2000 inhabitants of the village in the old kirkyard to celebrate the
201st anniversary of the Battle of Drumclog. Open air services were not
uncommon until the turn of the 20th century. Rev. Laing is also
recorded as preaching to a congregation of 1500 at the Watstone Burn in
1878. Similar services were regular occurrences on the banks of the
Several Ministers were buried in the old kirkyard including; the Rev.
John Scott, Rev. Henry Angus Paterson,
Rev. John Gray, Rev. James
Scott Naismith and Rev. Archibald Foyer
(c1668 -1734). It was during
Rev. Scott’s ministry that the Old Kirk was restored in 1734. The
funeral procession of Rev. Paterson is detailed in several Lanarkshire
publications. A popular figure in the community, the funeral was
attended by the majority of the inhabitants of Stonehouse in a slow
procession from the United Presbyterian Church, Lawrie Street to the
auld kirk cemetery.
The oldest surviving memorial to a local minister is that of Rev. John
Scott who died in 1759. His headstone is in fairly good condition
considering its age. Having served through the Jacobite Rebellions of
1715 and the ’45, he would appear from his epitaph to have been held in
high esteem by his congregation.
The majority of the headstones present today are of the 19th century
but there are many fine monuments from the 18th century and several
from the 17th century, including years; 1694, 1651, 1699 and 1676. The
headstone of Alexander Smith appropriately depicts the trade symbols of
a ‘blacksmith’. There may be other headstones present of the 17th
century but unfortunately weather erosion has defaced many of the older
Local poet John Walker died in 1882 and was buried in the old kirk
cemetery. Robert Naismith wrote of him with great admiration in his
book ‘Stonehouse Historical and Traditional’ in 1885. He informs us
John Walker was a tailor, photographer and repairer of clocks and
watches. A man of many talents, he published a volume of his poems and
prose in 1867. Several other members of his family are interred in the
lair including one of his daughters with the unusual name ‘Tirzah’
(Biblical name deriving from Greek ‘pleasant’).
An unusual inscription is that of “JOHN ANN CROW”, daughter of John
Crow and Christian Craig. Possibly pronounced Jo’ann she was presumably
named after her father.
Manse Road Cemetery
In 1902 the old kirk cemetery was said to be in such a condition of
disrepair that the Heritors asked the
local Parish Council to close the
cemetery. The Parish Council thus instructed that a survey be carried
out to investigate the extent of the problem and identify whether or
not the cemetery required to be extended or a new site established to
cope with future demand.
The survey was carried out in early 1903 revealing a total of 533
lairs, consisting of around 1600 breadths of which most were of three
breadths (8ft allowed for 3 breadths). A few lairs were of four and
five breadths. It was further stated that there had been no burials in
the cemetery since 1882.
In consultation with the Heritors, a request was made to the Sheriff
Substitute in Hamilton to have the cemetery closed after inspection,
under the Burial Grounds (Scotland) Act 1855. This was with the
exception of spouses of the previously interred; all heritors and
householders on the 1901/02 valuation role, including their families,
provided there was appropriate room in the respective lairs.
The Parish Council then sought to purchase the grounds next to the
Manse to extend the existing cemetery. However on seeking Rev. Wyper
Wilson’s views on the matter, he informed the Parish Council that he
had to refuse such a request as the legal distance between a house and
a cemetery was 100 yards. He suggested that the Parish Council may wish
to remove the Manse to another location and thus extend the cemetery to
within the confines of the Manse walls. This being a costly option, the
Council hastened to look elsewhere.
Some discussion and disagreement then ensued between the Parish Council
and the Heritors regarding the proposed location of a new cemetery.
Sites considered included land at Udston and Newfield farm. However,
after extensive investigations, sample borers were taken at a site
adjoining East Mains farm and an area of land was bought at the price
of £375 per acre. Tenders were then sought for the works to be
carried out to which Robert Bruce was the successful applicant as the
main contractor undertaking the foundations and drainage at a cost of
£229. Blacksmith, James Frood was also successful in being
awarded the ‘smith works’ (quote £38), provided he resigned as a
Parish Councillor due to his conflict of interest. The cemetery was
completed around 1907.
Reconstruction of Old Kirk
Little is known of the old kirk ruins. Last restored in 1734, it
probably fell into disrepair during the latter half of that century, as
the new church, in New Street was opened in 1772. The fallen remains
may have been used to assist in the building of the new church, or,
used in the construction of the nearby Manse and surrounding walls,
built in 1761.
The ruins were classified as a ‘B’ listed monument, along with the
graveyard in 1971. The belfry is typical of other 17th century
churches, such as, Craig of Auchindoir Church in Grampian and
Cambusnethan Church, over the Clyde river. The former adjoining walls
of the belfy tower may have been considerably older. An inner structure
is visible on the east facing wall of the belfry ruins. Whether this
was internal roof supports, incorporated into the church here, or, part
of an older, previous church, is uncertain. A more detailed study by an
architectural historian may reveal more.
In the 1860’s annual gatherings were established between ex-natives of
the village, resident in Glasgow and the inhabitants of Stonehouse. At
one such event, in the Merchants Hall, Glasgow, a Mr Thomas Muter gave
a description of the old kirk during his speech, in which he states,
“The old church was built
by the Roman Catholics, and was dedicated to
St.Ninian. The ground occupied by the old church can be traced to this
day. I have unquestionable authority for saying it was a long narrow
building with an open roof, no ceiling and no seats, so that worshipers
had up to its last days, to find their own stools, like Jenny Gedder.
The pulpit stood against the south wall, mid way along the house; and
the bell was tolled by a rope passing through the roof and coming down
inside”. Using this information and photographic evidence of
constructions, I illustrated a reconstruction of how the kirk may have
looked when in use. I believe the structure was approximately 15m in
In the not too distant future, we may see the demolition of the old
Parish Church in New Street, paving the way for another housing
development. Fortunately, we have a number of pictorial references of
the building before the turn of the century, with a detailed
description of its interior. This will at least enable us to recreate
and provide residents with a fairly accurate picture of the building in
its heyday. In other buildings, such as the old kirk, or former
castles, we are not so fortunate, but utilising what knowledge we do
have of these sites in comparison with contemporary structures, it may
be possible to illustrate a fair representation of these historic sites.