Case Study 3: Graveyard recording

Susan Buckham

The Council for Scottish Archaeology and HS Carved Stones Adviser Project (CSAP) promoted best practice in graveyard conservation, recording and research. This activity informed the work of cemetery professionals, heritage managers, community groups and members of the public. Operating between 2001 and 2006, CSAP devised and piloted a method to holistically record graveyards. Prior to the development of this methodology there was no recognised, standard means to record graveyards as a whole, unlike individual gravestones. Entries relating to historic burial grounds in Canmore, HERs and elsewhere varied widely in their level of detail and a comprehensive inventory of graveyard sites was lacking (this has subsequently been largely addressed by SAFHS). This situation limited the ability to gain an overview of graveyards as a research or heritage resource, or to understand a site’s gravestones as an assemblage (as opposed to individual stones of ‘interest’) and their collective contribution to a graveyard’s particular character. 

While gravestone recording could provide detailed information on the design and condition of individual stones (CSAP adapted Yates et al. 1999 to record gravestone condition), little information was available to contextualise this data or to evaluate its cultural significance. This was the case even for a basic assessment of aesthetic or scientific merits measured against e.g. chronologies or geographic distribution. The volume of surviving material meant identifying and quantifying risks to gravestones was highly resource-intensive. A graveyard-recording approach offered a more rapid means to audit condition. Additionally, a detailed study of stone condition did not always match the specific interests and priorities of target community participants, notably family history societies.

The CSAP system approached graveyards as burial landscapes and sought to gather evidence allowing for the study of interrelation between different types of burial sites (e.g. churchyard, cemetery, family burial ground etc. after Rugg 2000), their physical characteristics and associated social values.  A pro-forma recording form captured details of their built and natural features, along with information about a site’s development and setting. The form summarised gravestones at a group level (e.g. date, forms, materials, decoration), as well as identifying any notable individual stones (e.g. rare designs, examples linked to historic events/figures, particular social groups, activity or narratives). The survey considered any previous studies carried out, condition, management and use. Recorders could include their opinion on the main conservation priorities for the site.  A handbook, containing an illustrated glossary and case studies demonstrating how different graveyards evolved, accompanied the form. Following field-testing by community groups, a workshop for interested professionals and amateurs was used to gain feedback on the usability and effectiveness of the CSAP graveyard recording methodology (Buckham 2006). The recording system was subsequently adapted and expanded for the Clyde and Avon Valley Landscape Partnership’s graveyard conservation strategy (Buckham and Fisher 2013). 

A photo of a historic graveyard on a sunny day, with long grass, trees and casting shadows

Figure 1: View of gravestones at St Patricks Churchyard, Dalziel Estate, North Lanarkshire, which was one of the sites surveyed as part of the Clyde and Avon Valley Landscape Partnership’s graveyard conservation strategy. © Susan Buckham

A photo of a well tended graveyard with a large standing cross in the centre, with other monuments arranged in a circle around with tarmac paths between

Figure 2: View of gravestones at Stonehouse Cemetery, South Lanarkshire, which was one of the sites surveyed as part of the Clyde and Avon Valley Landscape Partnership’s graveyard conservation strategy. © Susan Buckham

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