Graveyards & Cemeteries


Graveyards & Cemeteries

Although I am fascinated by the memento mori found in a graveyard as well as the architecture and development of the church itself, my interest lies predominantly in the body snatching aspect of graveyards and cemeteries.

This reflects how I use my books and which books I buy. To help you perhaps choose which would be most useful on your bookshelf, I come up with my favourites, the ones that I use the most to help you make your decision.

I’m going to dive right in and start with my favourites: one covering London and three covering Edinburgh. These are all fairly recent publications with Golledge’s book ‘Greyfriars Graveyard’ only coming out in 2018. If I had to pick just one, however, it would be Crypt of London, hands down!

Crytps of London by Malcom Johnson

Crypts of London: M. Johnson

By rediscovering the stories behind be these subterrainian spaces Johnson introduces Londoners both famous or otherwise and shares glorious snippets of history from one of the most ecclectic cities in the world.

Recounting tales of broken coffins and answering questions such as ‘How Long Is It Before A Body And Coffin Disintegrate?’ Johnson’s relaxed writing style means this book is an absoulute treasure that you won’t want to end!

Black Markers By Jan-Andrew Henderson

Black Markers: J. Henderson

Black Markers is a book covering Edinburgh’s history with a difference.

Travelling throughout this iconinc city, Henderson rells it’s history through the medium of gravestones or rather black makers. From the obvious, like David Rizzio’s grave to the less well known everything is covered even the Resurrection Men!

If you love Edinburgh, Graveyards and history then this is a must have for your bookshelf.

Greyfriears Graveyard Charlotte Golledge

Greyfriears Graveyard: C. Golledge

If you can’t make the trip to this iconic graveyard in the heart of Scotland’s capital city then dive into this book.

Retelling the history behind the headstones that you’ve no doubt often passed, this book is packet full of images and sketches to help you to decipher the different memento mori, and there’s even a chapter on body snatching!

Golledge’s book will become a staple for all your Greyfriars visits in the future as well as being a ‘go-to’ reference guide to gravestone symbols.

Graveyards & Cemeteris of Edinburgh: C. Golledge

If you enjoy looking at all of the cemeteries & graveyards that Edinburgh has to offer then Golledge’s next book is probably for you.

Covering the development of the city’s graveyards, including the obvious sites such as Greyfriars and St Cuthbert’s, Golledge also includes less known cemeteries such as Dalry Cemetery where the heartbreaking tale of ‘lost’ twin Dolores McCurdy is remembered.

Not as detailed as her book on Greyfriars, this book will still enhance your visits to some of Edinburgh’s favourite outside spaces.

There are a few books that I return to time and time again as a general guide or starting point to my research.

It can be difficult for me to find information specific to body snatching in general guides, but I still find them incredibly useful to my background search and general interest in graveyards

There’s some classics in my list below as well as some newer editions. They are to act as guides to the many number of churches and churchyards within the UK and will be a pleasure just to read regardless of wehter you visit them or not.

  • Dixe Wills ‘Tiny Churches’ (2018)
  • John Betjeman ‘Collins Guide to Parish Churches’ (1980)
  • Simon Jenkins ‘England’s Thousand Best Churches’ (1999)
  • Brian Bailey ‘Churchyards of England & Wales’ (1987)
  • Sarah Rutherford ‘The Victorian Cemetery’ (2008)
Tiny Churches Dixe Wills

Tiny Churches: D. Wills

Wills’s bookk gives a different slant on churches, something that I always enjoy seeing and has inspired me to travel further afield to discover some of the hidden gems.

Not all tiny churches are included, however, so please don’t be disappointed if your favourite is not there.

I wrote a larger review on Wills’s book here. I sense a second edition coming on if I’m honest!

Victorian Cemetery: S. Rutherford

Everything is covered in some aspect within this books, the development of the Garden Cemeteries with their chapels and monuments and even vaults with examples from all over Britain rather than just concentrating on London’s ‘Magnificent Seven’ cemeteries.

The book is from the Shire Books, a very useful series of publications that will suit historians whatever their level of interest. Their full range can be found on their website here.

Memorial Guides

If your interest lies in the memento mori that can be found in graveyards as well seeking out those hand-carved winged souls and hourglasses, then my next recommendations are just for you.

Understanding Scottish Graveyards by Betty Willsher

Scottish Graveyards: B. Willsher

I wouldn’t be without my copy of this fantastic book. Describing the meaning of every symbol that you could possibly see in a graveyard, if you’re wanting something a bit more substantial than Golledge mentioned above, then this is it!

It’s a classic work and if you can find a copy, snap it up quick! It’ll tell you everything you need to know about symbols on gravestones and more.

Gravestones, Tombs & Memorials by Trevor Yorke

Gravestones, Tombs & Memorials: T. Yorke

A great book for getting the basics of churchyard monuments and symbols under your belt., Yorke’s book is that type of book that you can tip into time and time again and still find something new.

Not as detailed as Willsher or Golledge mentioned previously, Yorke’s book is a great introduction to the subject of funerary art and willl cover the basics found in many graveyards of Britain.

Just One More ‘Must Have’

Due to the nature of my research, my collection is predominantly Scotland based and as my main starting point, and a book which I will never stop recommending if Geoff Holder’s ‘Scottish Bodysnatchers: A Gazetteer’.

Granted there are a few things that could be updated (it was written in 2010) or that are no longer relevant, and Geoff certainly hasn’t included all locations in Scotland with a body snatching link but my copy, although heavily annotated, lives with me at all times.

I’ve also included Geoff’s book in my recommendations for body snatching books in Britain which you can see here.