Christopher Dingwall 2011


William McKelvie : the life and times of a Victorian cemetery architect

This paper will examine the life and career of William Ross McKelvie (1825-1893), one the more prominent cemetery designers of the mid-Victorian era in Scotland.  Born in rural Wigtownshire in 1825, William McKelvie was appointed Superintendent of Parks and Cemeteries in Greenock in 1852, aged just 26.  From there, he moved to Dundee in 1863, where he spent the last thirty years of his working life in a similar capacity, dying in post in 1893.  Although early records describe McKelvie as a gardener, later documents refer to him as a civil engineer.

This paper will consider those who are known to have influenced McKelvie’s work and career, most notably Stewart Murray of the Glasgow Botanic Garden, who was closely involved in the design of Glasgow’s Necropolis (1831) and Greenock Cemetery (1846), and whose ideas influenced John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843).  Reference will also be made to the work of other prominent Scottish cemetery designers of the period such as architects James Findlater (1802-1873) in Dundee, and David Cousin (1809-1878) in Edinburgh. The paper will be illustrated with images of Greenock Cemetery (1846), where McKelvie began his career, and of his own designs for Dundee’s Eastern Necropolis (1863), Balgay Park and Western Necropolis (1870), Wick Cemetery in Caithness (1872), Cathcart Cemetery in Renfrewshire (1878) and Duthie Park alongside Allenvale Cemetery in Aberdeen (c.1880).


The Cemetery Research Group runs two events a year: in May and in November. Follow the links and send in an abstract