Family Research – English, Scottish and Irish Genealogy

20/12/2003

Grave Lore

Graves Stones from an article which appeared in the “South Leith Records” of “South Leith Parish Church” by Rev William Swan and David Robertson.

According to law and practice the ground in a Parish churchyard is not sold but only let, that is to say the Kirk Session cannot convey a Lair so as to make it for all time the property of one family. No doubt if a husband should bury his wife in a certain grave the ground will be kept for his own use when his death occurs. But after a lapse of fifteen to twenty years the ground becomes “Ripe” for opening again and the Kirk Session may let it to a new series of tenants, and so on it goes. Hence all over the Churchyard proper there has been a long succession of families occupying the same spaces, although this has been checked to some extent by allowing grave stones to be erected.

Down to the middle of the 17th century it was thought to savour of Popery to show respect for the dead in this way. On the 12th may 1646 the Kirk Session had before them a petition from a widow asking the favour to let her set up “ ane hewen stone in ye churchyard at ye head of hir husbands corpse” but the Session in no way would grant her request “ because everie ane would strive to have the lyke favor”. A few years later hey changed their minds and in 1665 and 1667 there are minutes bearing that they grant licences for such erections on payment of certain dues. The oldest stone in the churchyard which can be deciphered bears the name Abercromby and the date is 1656. It stands outside the elder’s vestry and the licence fee was £33/6/8 Scots was paid by the family. Within the Church there are a few stones of antique design, the oldest probably being one which forms part of the pavement at the North-East doorway. Its date is 1593 and it bears the name of Logan. Many fine stones have been used up to form pavements in and around the Church, and this unfortunate practice was not given up until the present concrete walks were made.

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