A Writer Discovers the Famous Dundee Cemetery
by Kate Laity
I have a lot of New England friends who enjoy exploring the graveyards of the northeast and probing the histories behind them, so it’s a treat to be able to visit an even older cemetery here in Dundee where I am spending Christmas. Of course the big holiday in Scotland is Hogmanay, but I have to be back in Ireland this year, so I’m going to miss it. Dundee also has a famous dragon as well, though it’s best known for the three Js: jute, jam and journalism. The jute mills once employed much of the population, until jute production was outsourced to India in the 1920s. Orange marmalade continues to be a staple of British tables. And Dundee remains the home of DC Thomson, creator of The Beano, The Dandy and The Sunday Post.
The most famous old graveyard in Dundee is the Howff which lies in the centre of town.The land once belonged to the Greyfriars Monastery, founded in the thirteenth century. When the monasteries were dissolved in the sixteenth century, the land was given to the city by Mary, Queen of Scots, for a burial ground. Monuments from this time dot the space.
While its primary purpose was to welcome the dead, the Howff also became the meeting place for the Nine Trades of Dundee, a sort of affiliation of skilled trades including bakers, shoemakers, glovers and tailors. The peaceful surroundings of the beautiful setting with its trees and green lawn offered a neutral territory as well as pleasant space. The trades would often gather around the gravesite of one of their departed elders.
The Howff is a wonderfully picturesque graveyard; it was already full up in the 19th century, so there haven’t been any new inhabitants since then. While most old burial grounds have a multitude of spooky stories about restless dwellers, there seems to be a shortage of such tales for Dundee’s most famous cemetery. Maybe it’s just the straightforward attitude of the Scots, but the only spirits that seem to roam at night come from a bottle!