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Digital Subscriptions > History Scotland > May - June 2018 > The Howff Dundee’s City of the Dead

The Howff Dundee’s City of the Dead

We report on a community project to investigate a 400-year-old burial ground which is home to a number of rare gravestones

Located in the heart of Dundee, the Howff is one of Scotland’s oldest urban cemeteries, just a two-minute walk from the hustle and bustle of the city centre. The cemetery’s collection of carved gravestones and tombs are of national importance, second only in diversity, age and quality to Greyfriars in Edinburgh. In recognition of this, in 1963 the Howff was protected as a class ‘A’ listed building. Nonetheless, time and modern pollution are taking their toll on this extraordinary legacy of fragile sandstone carvings. Now an ambitious new grassroots project is determined to save the Howff’s heritage for future generations and, Aerial view of the inner-city historic graveyard surrounded by buildings in Dundee city centre in the process, is making some remarkable discoveries.

Aerial view of the inner-city historic graveyard surrounded by buildings in Dundee city centre

History of the old burial ground

The Howff occupies the grounds of historic Greyfriars, a Franciscan friary which was founded on the outskirts of medieval Dundee during the 1280s, traditionally by Dervorgilla of Galloway who was the mother of king John Balliol. As the provincial centre of the Franciscan Order in Scotland, Greyfriars was a significant and wealthy foundation. In addition to the conventual buildings and a church, which from the 14th century housed the mausoleum of the powerful earls of Crawford, the friary incorporated a school and was the site of several important political meetings.

It was a grant by Mary Queen of Scots on 11 September 1564 that established civic burial rights within the Howff. The queen’s letter of grant was instigated due to concerns about overcrowding at the graveyard of St Clements Kirk, which was within the confines of the city walls near the market place, and the threat of spreading disease this could cause.

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About History Scotland

In the May/June issue of History Scotland we present the latest research from experts in the fields of Scottish history, heritage and archaeology, as well as news, opinion, book reviews and upcoming history events. Highlights include: · The tragic attempt by the tobacco heir David Guthrie Dunn to sail around the world in his small yacht, Southern Cross, in 1930 · A fresh contribution to the ongoing debate as to where the elusive abbey of Selkirk was situated during its brief existence in the early 12th century · A new study of the causes and consequences of the devastating famine of 1623 Plus: Family history advice, archaeology dig reports and finds analysis, National Records of Scotland column and lots more…