Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Penicuik Graveyard

I paid a visit to the dentist today (definitely the bad Virgo week continues) as I have many times before. Today I was much too early so I casually glanced up after I had parked my car to consider how I could fill 20 minutes and my eye fell across the road on a stone tower. Could it be possible? Yes, it was. A hitherto undiscovered graveyard. The main one in Penicuik. I crossed the road and the first thing that greeted me was the sign on the gate: Beware dangerous gravestones. And they weren't joking!

This must be by far and away the most dismal graveyard I have visited to date as far as maintenance is concerned. The building (the ruins of the old St. Kentigern church dating back to 1556) is boarded up and accompanied by more warnings about the possible dangers of attempting an entry. Gravestones have fallen over where they stood, some partially, others have been removed and leaning every which way against walls. Most of the very old ones are disappearing into the ground and the whole scene was one of abandonment and darkness.

The gravestone at the top (also my blip for today) is a shining (if that isn't the wrong word!) example, made even more unnerving by the ferocity of the skull at the top.

But there were glimpses of loveliness too, such as this stone set into the wall of the boarded up tower. It reads;


to the


of the



and his

wife Ailie

who lie


in this



With a mighty bloodhound featured too! Of course I couldn't help but want to know more about this and here it is in a nutshell:

A native of the parish of West Linton, John Jackson (‘James Noble’) married Margaret Todd (‘Ailie’) in Penicuik in January 1807. The couple had seven children. They lived in a small cottage in Loanstone, just east of Penicuik, although John ran his carrier business from the village of Howgate. A carrier was a delivery person, who carried loads about the country with his horse and cart. Howgate was once on the main road from Edinburgh to Peebles and further south. The Howgate Inn was an important stopping place and was frequented by Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott.

Margaret Todd died in December 1830 and John soon afterwards, in January 1831. They were buried in Penicuik churchyard in unmarked graves. In August 1920 a memorial was unveiled in Penicuik churchyard to the Howgate Carrier and his wife ‘Ailie’. The memorial was paid for by public subscription and unveiled by the Midlothian author Mrs Burnett Smith, better known by her penname of ‘Annie S Swan’

More can be found by clicking on this link!

A Memento Mori scroll and a frightening skull are the first things to attract attention on this stone as well as a splendid winged hour-glass but at the top I first thought I detected two monkeys. But careful inspection rewarded me with the realization that there are two angels (without wings, for once) whose faces merge with the rounded scrolls. They also have lovely flowing hair.

There must have been some image in between their two shapes but what it could possibly have been remains a mystery. There must also have been text on the scroll about the hour-glass but that too is gone

Sorting out what is going on on this almost submerged gravestone took me quite some time but if you peer at it long enough you will see two angels, with their wings standing up almost vertical from their shoulders, their heads bend and their hands grabbing an hour-glass each and a round object (the world??) in the centre. At the top is the ubiquitous skull, a quite benign one, that seems to almost smile down at their activities. No doubt there is lots more gravestone underneath the grass but sadly all information on it is now lost of us!

A deliciously scary stone, with an unusual way of incorporating the winged angel at the top, so that the wings form the arch at the top of the stone, with openings around it. Buried there are DH and AS, husband and wife without doubt, but their identities now unknown, but their gravestone dating back to 1686.

As you can see many of the buildings and enclosures are in ruins with bits and pieces of masonry and gravestones strewn around the place. There is a coat of arms on the left hand side of the above picture, just about still hanging on to the remains of the arched wall. I'm far from sure whose it can be but according to Monuments and Monumental Inscriptions in Scotland (Vol. 1), by the Rev. Charles Rogers, 1871 this could be part of the family vault of Dalyell. However I'm open to suggestions!

I'm positively looking forward to my next visit to the dentist to have another look!


sheppeylass said...

Just browsing today and "Penicuik" caught my eye as I have distant family in the area. What a wonderful post - thanks! I'll need to do some more research too as I seem to remember "Margaret Todd" in the family tree somewhere...:)

Lenna Young Andrews said...

well that was certainly and interesting find Frieda and would make going to the dentist much more palatable!


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