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Old Parish Churchyard

Researched by Carrick McDonald

© Rutherglen Heritage Society

From the script of 'Rutherglen Old Parish Church', a programme which features in CamGlen Radio’s ‘Halfway to Burgh’ local history series. The text in blue is from an interview with Hugh Millar, Session Clerk at the church, recorded in 2017, which featured in the programme. This section of the programme covers the churchyard, said to have been a burial ground since the 6th. century.

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Above, Rutherglen Old Parish churchyard with St. Mary's tower and the current (1902) church in the background. 

'The moment you step outside the present Old Parish Church building you are walking on ground which is the responsibility of South Lanarkshire Council.  It looks after the graveyard where many former Rutherglen worthies are buried. Dr Gorman’s grave is in the corner next to the rear King Street end of the Town Hall.'  

Dr James Gorman was a physician who, in Victorian times, provided Ruglonians with medical care long before the National Health Service was introduced. He is mentioned in several historical accounts as having treated the injured during some of Lanarkshire’s most serious mining disasters. Apart from having a statue erected to him at the corner of Main Street and Queen Street, one of the town’s most popular pubs is named after him.

Gorman family grave

Above, the Gorman family grave. The plaque shown on the  obelisk is to the memory of Dr. John Gorman, James Gorman's father 

The Last Burial

The last burial in the Old Parish Church graveyard was in the early 1950s. The audio clip below features local historian David Jackson (right)  pinning the date down to the exact year: 1953, as


he describes a  local man's  eye-witness account.

Last burial David Jackson amplDavid Jackson
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Gravestone against church wall

Above, weathered gravestones in the centre of the churchyard. 


'Many of the stones in the graveyard are badly weathered and some have been toppled by gales or tree roots. The Church does not have records of those buried in the graveyard but it does have a very few copies of a booklet prepared by J Scott Fairie of the Glasgow and West of Scotland Family History Society called Rutherglen Old Parish Churchyard which lists what can be read of the inscriptions on the stones in the graveyard. 

This booklet is available at a cost of £3.50 per copy.'

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Above, three late 18th. century gravestones in the churchyard including on the right, that of Andrew McMath and Ann Dugal, 1788.

'You will notice that the graveyard is higher than the surrounding streets, reminding us that when small graveyards are full you just bring in more soil and bury people in layers above those buried in the past.'

Historically, each parish provided, maintained and managed burial grounds at or near the parish church. By Victorian times the parish system was no longer able to cope with demand for burial space, and as a result burial grounds were increasingly provided by local authorities.


From the end of the 19th century, burial was being gradually superseded by cremation. The last burial in Rutherglen Old Parish Churchyard took place in 1953.

Right, photograph showing the level of the graveyard being higher than Main Street due to 'stacking' of burials over time.

St. Mary's Tower

'In the centre of the graveyard is the gable end of the second, or mediaeval, church building which was in use from about 1100 A.D. until the early 1790s.  Around 1500 St Mary’s tower and steeple were added to the east end of the mediaeval church.  Within St. Mary’s Steeple there is a bell dating from 1635.  It was made in Middleburg in Holland, is still in use, and is inscribed in Latin with words which translate to ‘Glory to God alone.  Michael Burgerhuys made me.’'

'A number of visitors have told me that there is a tunnel running from St Mary’s Tower to Glasgow Cathedral through which Sir William Wallace once escaped from the English.  It’s a good story – unfortunately the tower wasn’t built until 200 years after Wallace’s death and it does seem rather unlikely that 720 years ago people had the ability to dig a tunnel which is about 3 miles long and passes under the River Clyde.'

There is mention in local folklore of a tunnel. In the book Rambles Round Glasgow published in the 1850s, the author recounts the story told by a local woman of a highland piper who entered the tunnel to explore it. The piper, unfortunately, lost his way in the darkness. The plaintive sound of his pipes was apparently heard below ground somewhere around Dalmarnock, but the piper was never seen again.

Left, the gable end of the medieval church, against St. Mary's tower, erected c. 1500

The Kirk Port

"At the entrance to the graveyard from Main Street there is a Kirk Port dated 1663. When it was built this entrance led directly to the main door of the mediaeval church.  On top of the Kirk Port is a sundial dated 1679 and on either side are two stone shelters dated 1761 and it is possible that Rutherglen Old Parish Church is the only church which has such shelters.  They are not sentry boxes as some believe; in fact church elders once stood in these stone shelters to collect the offerings of the congregation as they arrived."


Left, the 1663 kirk port with 1679 sundial on top. Above, one of the 1761 stone shelters..

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Above, photograph showing the Kirk Port and a group of 'Old Residenters'. One use of the 'sentry box' stone shelters is said in some sources to have been to house guards who kept watch for body snatchers.    Picture credit: 'R.B.'/W. Ross. Shearer.

Prior to 1662, the kirk port stood at the west end of

the kirk-yard dyke. This was demolished, and a year

later (1663) the port as we know it to-day was erected

at the expense of the Town Council, and it is interesting

now to learn that part of the expense was made up of " that

fyne of twentie punds money whairin Jas. Riddell and

John Riddell, sones to Walter Riddell, are adjudged for

profanatione of the Sabbath Day." Of Renaissance design;

this lych-gate entrance to the old burying-ground shows

a remarkable feature in the two sentry boxes erected on

either side for the purpose, it seems, of screening the elders

who stood at the plate from inclement weathers. These,

apparently, were an after arrangement, as they bear the

date 1761. The sun-dial surmounting the kirk port is

dated 1679.

From Rutherglen Lore, William Ross Shearer, 1922

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Above, W. Ross Shearer, author, Rutherglen Lore

Below, St. Mary's tower and steeple


© 2019 by Rutherglen Heritage Society. 

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