Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Bookshelf: Death by Design.The True Story of the Glasgow Necropolis by Ronnie Scott

In October I blogged about a Country Rambles podcast that, well, rambled around the Glasgow Necropolis. In this post I mentioned that a friend from graduate school had written a book about the cemetery - a book that I owned, but had not yet read.  I am happy to report that this week I rectified this dereliction in reading duties.

Death by Design: The True Story of the Glasgow Necropolis
Death by Design. The True Story of the Glasgow Necropolis

The first several chapters in the book cover the Necropolis’ place in the history of cemeteries as it marks a shift in ideas about death. Before the Victorian era, death was seen as leading to to a place of awful torment. During this period it was conceived of as a place of eternal slumber. This change in ideas is reflected in a corresponding change in cemetery design and imagery used in grave markers. Another point he makes is that cemeteries are for the living and the Necropolis, like contemporary cemeteries, was meant to reinforce the mores and social hierarchies of its time.

Currently, the Necropolis, like other cemeteries I would imagine, are contested ground as different groups like family historians, geologists, environmentalists, art historians, etc. each have different goals in cemetery use and preservation. Since I fall into at least two of the categories Ronnie discusses, I can well understand the difficulties.

The living of the Victorian era may have used cemeteries to reinforce social values; many of the more recent living use cemeteries to trace their own history. Sometimes the only record of a person’s existence is in a cemetery. Monumental inscriptions routinely reveal birth and death dates and family relationships. In the case of emigrants, markers often note the country of birth. In Scotland, you might be lucky enough to find memorials that commemorate relatives who emigrated to America. Helpfully, Ronnie lists where all the records for internments at the Glasgow Necropolis can be found. The records are crucial as the overwhelming majority of the 50,000 interments were in large common graves.

The majority of the book is a guided tour of the Glasgow Necropolis, highlighting the great and the good with biographies of the people and descriptions of the monuments.

I really enjoyed Death by Design: The True Story of the Glasgow Necropolis The only difficulty is that it is now out of print. I did find it used on Amazon, but the least expensive copy was $42.99. It’s seems to me that there might be a market for a second edition.

In the meantime, you can visit Ronnie’s website or read his recent edited work, Tommy's Peace: A Family Diary 1919-33. Tommy's Peace even has a Facebook Page. Ronnie will read from the book 27 January  2011 at the Govanhill Library.

1 comment:

Jo said...

I heard the Necropolis ramble on the radio - fascinating stuff! I'm always amazed at the amount of information on Scottish headstones compared with those of other countries. Will keep an eye out for Ronnie's book :-)


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