In this guest blog, Jakob Assarsson explains why he and Norbert David decided to set up the Friends of Dalry Cemetery during the 2020 lockdown, what the group has achieved so far, and their future plans for this valued local historical greenspace.
Please note that as this is a guest post, all views expressed are the sole responsibility of the author, and not Gorgie Dalry Community Council.
Dalry Cemetery was opened in 1846, but I didn’t have a chance to visit until 2014, some 168 years later. I’d moved to Merchiston, Edinburgh, four years prior and finally explored far enough to reach Dalry, which is about a half mile from my house. I found a funny little cemetery, mostly hidden from view behind nondescript stone walls, the grass half-tended around toppled monuments.
My own most overwhelming impression was of litter, everywhere. Rusty cans and broken glass, half-buried plastic bags that disintegrated into a thousand pieces. Clothes, suitcases, odd shoes. Needles. I recall feeling strongly that even if the graves were not tended or visited, they should be free of litter.
I returned many times over the next few years to pick litter, but it wasn’t until lockdown in spring 2020 when I saw a post by Norbert David on the “Gorgie-Dalry Neighbours” Facebook group – about the poor state of the cemetery and suggesting an organised community litter pick – that I realised it could be worth getting organised.
Friends of Dalry Cemetery was set up in May 2020, first as a Facebook group – now numbering 800 members – and then with the addition of a simple website. Norbert and I surveyed the cemetery, making improvement plans and researching notable residents. We drafted a constitution and membership forms, and made a poll to get an idea of what people actually wanted to see done. Many people began to share stories and photographs of the cemetery.
We’ve had huge amounts of help from the City of Edinburgh Council Cemeteries, Parks, and Forestry departments, Friends of Warriston Cemetery, and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. We’ve also been extremely lucky not only to receive some funding from CEC Bereavement Services, but also to have been approved for a Covid Community Grant via Big Hearts Foundation. This has enabled our biggest achievement to date, purchasing a second cabinet noticeboard (alongside one from the council) so that both entrances to the cemetery will have one. We have also bought insurance, tools, paint & supplies, plants & seeds, and bird & bat boxes. We plan to buy a shed soon so we can keep equipment on site. We’ve held several organised litter picking days, collecting over 40kg at the first, although these have been slightly hampered by Covid restrictions.
We’ve begun making the cemetery more inviting through limited clearing of vegetation, new planting, repainting gates and railings, and the installation of eight new bird boxes. CEC Cemeteries have worked hard to improve the main path around the cemetery. Plans are in the works to restand some key monuments, and funding has been secured, via Standard Life Aberdeen’s “Giving Back to Green Spaces” project, for an ambitious new planting project in the spring.
“Dalry Necropolis” had opened in 1846, as a private “garden” cemetery with tasteful planting and impressive vaulted catacombs. In its heyday it had nearly three funerals a day, but this wound down as the nearly six acres were gradually filled with 5,500 plots and nearly 27,000 burials. By the 1970s, the Edinburgh Cemetery Company, which owned it, ran out of money, leaving the cemetery to decay and grow over, eventually being taken over by the City of Edinburgh Council in the late 1980s. As mourners and gravediggers moved out, nature moved in, and Dalry today boasts rich biodiversity, with an impressive array of birds and insects.
We hope to continue improving Dalry, uncovering more of its fascinating Victorian history while also embracing its current form as a public greenspace and wildlife haven.
If you are keen to find out more or get involved with the Friends of Dalry Cemetery, check out their website: dalrycemetery.co.uk
Dalry Cemetery is one of our many local greenspaces in Gorgie/Dalry, have you visited them all? Discover more with our directory: Gorgie/Dalry Parks and Greenspaces