Old Carlton Burying Ground

The first morning of my stay in Edinburgh I visited Old Carlton Burial Ground, which was just down the road from my hotel.

The burial ground which lies at the bottom of Carlton Hill opened in 1718 for the burial of the city’s tradesmen and merchants, by the Society of the Incorporated Trades, who brought half an acre of land for  £1013, from Lord Balmerino. It was extended in 1767 and 1801, burials continued on the site until 1869, but was divided by the construction of Waterloo Place in 1818. A small portion of the burial ground lies to the north of the road, but the largest part lies to the south. The division required the removal of remains and stones, the bodies were wrapped and moved to Carlton New Burial Ground where some of the memorials were re-erected. As the level of the burial ground is higher than the road, screen walls were constructed, with steps up to the cemetery.

The entrance to the southern part of the Burial Ground has this notice, with details of famous individuals buried there.

Sign at Carlton Old

Without a map and with only a short time to spare I did not manage to find all of these memorials, but I found many of them. Next time I visit Edinburgh I plan to return to Old Carlton, find the others, and complete my map of the cemetery.

The steps up to the cemetery are quite steep, so until you reach the top the memorial which dominates the view is The Political Martyrs Monument.

Carlton Old - Steps

When the cemetery opens out, there are graves on both sides of the pathway which is still sunken, before it goes up another set of stairs.

Carlton Old - Initial view 1

Carlton Old - Initial View 2

It’s easy to see why this burial ground and it’s monuments are protected as a Category A listed building. There are some fabulous and unusual monuments in the cemetery, and some wonderful stories attributed to it.

Once I’ve returned to the cemetery and completed my map I will post a full profile of the important people and memorials in the cemetery, but until then I will share just one more photo:

Hume and Scots-American Monument

The monument in the foreground is a statue of Abraham Lincoln, which was erected on the site where Scots who fought in the American Civil War were buried. In the statue, Abraham Lincoln is holding the proclamation of Emancipation. There is a slave on the pedestal below with his hand raised in gratitude. The symbols on the memorial include both British and American flags, with thistles and cotton. The memorial was a gift from America to Scotland, unveiled in 1893.

The memorial behind belongs to the philosopher David Hume. There is a story that Hume’s atheism prompted rumours that he had made a Faustian pact with the devil, and because of this his friend’s held a candlelit vigil for 8 nights outside his tomb. They fired pistols into the air to deter spirits from taking his soul. I’d love to know if that story is true; does anyone know the source?

During my time in Edinburgh I tried to find out more about Old Carlton Burial Ground, but the Edinburgh and Scottish Collection at Central Library is currently closed for refurbishment. It should be reopening in May, so hopefully on my next visit I will be able to look through their books!

In the meantime, the only information I have found has been online; so some of the sources are more reliable than others… Below is a list of the sites I found:


Canmore, 2014, Site Record for Edinburgh, Waterloo Place, Old Carlton Burial Ground, American Civil War Memorial. available at http://canmore.rcahms.gov.uk/en/site/117416/details/edinburgh+waterloo+place+old+calton+burial+ground+american+civil+war+memorial/, accessed on 10/02/14

Wikipedia, 2014, Carlton Old Cemetery, available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Calton_Cemetery, accessed on 10/02/14

Peter McGowan Associates, 2007, ‘Old Carlton Burying Ground’. Edinburgh Survey of Gardens and Designed Landscapes. City of Edinburgh Council.
(PDF can be downloaded via Wikipedia article)

Lonely Planet, 2014, Things to do in Edinburgh; Old Carlton Burial Ground, available at http://www.lonelyplanet.com/scotland/edinburgh/sights/other/old-calton-burial-ground, accessed on 10/02/14

Gazeteer for Scotland, 2013, Old Carlton Burial Ground, available at http://www.scottish-places.info/features/featurefirst7875.html, accessed on 10/02/14

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