Cemeteries and Burial Grounds
The oldest burial ground in the town would have been out at the land beside the castle. In 1854 mention of this was made but there seems to have been very little written records of the site,this would have served the village of Newark.

"There is no direct history of it at least in printed books. It is highly probable, however, that there might have been a chapel to it in Roman Catholic times. Antiquarian research has unearthed the following items, which may be presumed to allude to it. One .Sir Johne Cuke, chaplain of the Newark of Finlayson, in October, 1484, pursued Lord Kihnaurs for some money, as being part of Sir Johne's stipend, due by him, furth of the lands of Finlayson and Newark. From some Retours (published in 1811), .Maxwell of Newark was patron of the chapel of Newark in 1627 and thence forward to 1700. This chapel may have been destroyed at the reformation and the Maxwells of Newark driven into their own castle for the performance of their worship. Tradition still points out a room in the castle which was used as a chapel. The burying-ground must contain the ashes of the Maxwell's, and the ancient inhabitants of the village of Newark."

By 1860 the site of Blackstone was to be closed and no further interments to take place other than a small few which had already purchased a family lair. These included:

"Duncan Allan, grocer, Port-Glasgow, the proprietor of a burying place, to the limited extent of interment there for himself and his wife, Mrs Catherine Allan, when that shall become necessary and that permission be also given to James Johnston, upholsterer, Port-Glasgow for interment in his lair, for himself, his mother, Agnes Cooper or Johnston, and his sisters, Elizabeth and Agnes Johnston, when that may become necessary."

The persons buried here were later moved to the new cemetry around 1960.
In February 1854 a request was put to  Sir Michael R. Shaw Stewart for land on which to create a new burial ground. At this time it was noted that there was only three places in the town for this purpose.

"The town of Port-Glasgow is very ill off for accommodation for burial purposes. There are-three places of interment - one around the Parish Church, another beside .Newark Chapel and a third in the neighbourhood of the railway. The two first are entirely private property and the third is so closely surrounded by houses, as to be condemned by the medical officers of the Board of Health. They are besides over-crowded, some coffins not being covered by more than six inches, of earth and interments are continually taking place at too short intervals and with imminent danger to the health of the community."

Provost Birkmyre, Archibald MacCallum, Esq. and M. L. Inglis Esq. had an interview by appointment with Sir Michael in the Mansion-House to explain the situation and suggested four sites for the new burial ground. They pointed out the apperance of cholera in Port Glasgow made this matter urgent and they hoped for an early answer to the request.

By the end of March 1854 land had been granted for the site of the new cemetery: "about three acres, at the lowest rate of feu consistent with the provisions of the entail of his estate, have been offered, on the Dubbs Farm, above the Clune Brae. The burying grounds attached to Port-Glasgow Parish Church and Newark Chapel are said to be as fully occupied as it is safe to have them, while it is on all hands admitted that the Newark or East-end graveyard should have been closed many years ago."
Graves around the Parish church wich is now St Andrews in the town centre

A petition for closing this ground was brought before Sheriff Tennent yesterday.. Mr Archibald MacCallum, writer, Port-Glasgow appeared for the petitioners. L. McLelland, writer there appeared for the petitioners and Mr J Black - writer for Messrs Andrew Nesmith, Wilham McCallum, Hall Niven, Thomas Orr and others - objectors.

Newark Chapel Churchyard. January 1860 

James Moore, grave digger, who opened - I have been grave-digger for eight years, during which I have attended at all the grave-yards in Port-Glasgow. I know the Chapel burying ground, which is all used for graves. The Church is situated in it, and it stands on the slope of a hill. It is bounded at the foot by Chapel Lane. The level of the kirk-yard is about 12 feet higher than that of the street, which is narrow. There are a great number of dwelling-houses on the opposite side of the lane. The soil is wet and clayey. The earth sticks to the spade. We are troubled with water in digging graves, and it sometimes stops us till it is bailed out. It is the practice at odd times to put in some dust and green grass to cover the water in the graves. 'The grave sometimes falls in, and I find it very difficult to open it a second time. I find it difficult to find room for a coffin-.by not getting down to a sufficient depth. I break open some of the coffins I come upon, while digging graves, to see if they are fit for removing. If the body is not decayed all away, I close up the coffins again. I have found the body quite 'entire in coffins placed there before I was a grave-digger-eight years ago. I have found the body quite decomposed in plenty of cases. I found the body as un-decomposed as when it was buried. I heard it said that it had been interred for more than 10 years. I closed it up, and made the interment on the top. I had scarcely room to put the other coffin on the top.

James Moore was the grave digger there and he describes the conditions at the site in 1860:

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There was a disagreeable smell from the coffin. I found another grave in the same state, the coffin being like the other at a depth of about four feet from the surface. Neither of the graves had been opened in my time. In the interments I made in these graves last year I put no earth between the coffins. The graves I have opened behind the Church were mostly wet, particularly in the winter. The area of the Church is 5 feet lower than the graveyard behind it. The rest of the graveyard is not so bad as that at the back, but I have bailed water out of the rest in the winter time. I just throw the water on the surface around me. The broken coffins are sometimes laid in the grave, and sometimes aside. I burned them once in this yard, but I was stopped. I never.put any in the river. I put it mostly in the grave just now, but I put some on the surface along the wall. I never saw a drain in the churchyard. The southeast corner is very good and dry soil, but I never did much in it. I have not opened a third part of the lairs in the churchyard. Some of these I broke were full and others not. The bodies last longer in that ground than in the other burying grounds in Port Glasgow.

John Knox, undertaker, examined by Mr McLelland - I have been undertaker for many funerals in the chapel ground. Chapel Lane which bounds the burying-ground, is from 8 to 10 feet wide, and on the opposite side fourteen workmen's families are resident. There is a schoolroom close by, and the level of the churchyard is 20 feet above that of the schoolroom. The soil is very clayey very wet.I have never seen worse soil.
I have seen the grave diggers bail water out and put in saw dust, to make the appearance of the grave as pleasant as possible. The state of the grave was considered indecent when sawdust was put in. I have seen grass put in several times. I have seen coffins opened, some of the bodies were decayed and others not. In some cases the body was not decayed after being interred for 15 years, and the fresh interments were made on the top of the coffins, I can't say what part of the churchyard these graves were in. In general the lairs are pretty full. My opinion is in general the lairs are pretty full. My opinion is grounded on the fact that the bodies take a long time to decay from the nature of the soil. I had an interment three weeks ago, and the lair was quite full. It is at the back of the church. The average depth from the surface is 4 feet. I have interred from 8 to 10 bodies yearly for 20 years. I never saw a drain in the churchyard.

Newark Parish Church prior to refurbisment

At this stage the court was adjourned for a short time because of the extreme cold and on again taking his seat  Sherrif Tennent said that he was not fully satisfied with the evidence given as to the state of the ground. He thought the better idea would be to get two qualified parties to examine it's condition and report and he would accordingly a make a remit to Dr Marshall and Mr William McKelvie, Greenock Cemetery, for this purpose.
The proceedings were then adjourned and recommenced in July of the same year.

"James Grieve, surgeon in Port-Glasgow being examined responded that I have been in practice 25 years, upwards of 10 of which I have been in Port-Glasgow. I have taken a good deal of interest in improving its sanitary condition. The exhalations from graveyards have been ascertained to be dangerous to human life, and such gases in a highly concentrated state are capable of producing instantaneous death. Such gases, although they may not engender disease, yet aggravated its character in a very marked degree. I should not consider it safe even if the most favourable soil to reopen a grave sooner than five years.
I have recently examined the state of the Parish Churchyard of Port-Glasgow I caused 50 borings to he made in my presence, and found the average depth above the coffins to be about two feet eleven inches - the minimum depth about one feet three inches, and the maximum four feet nine inches. I consider the soil to be in certain portions of the churchyard very wet and clayey the drainage bad, its position bad, being situated within the town, the manner of conducting the interments very irregular, that it is over-crowded from the fact of the ground being too frequently disturbed before decomposition has properly taken place, and from its being surrounded by-walls and houses, causing it to be very confined and I consider its neglected condition and appearance contrary to decency I observed a good deal of coffin wood and some bones scattered about.
The graves are in some parts placed in close proximity to the walls of dwelling houses and underneath their windows. The Parish Church is in the centre of the graveyard, and the whole ground area is used as vaults for interment, except a small space occupied by the vestry. I object entirely to burials in churches generally, although I do not think the Parish Church is in a worse condition than others on the same principle. I know that the practice has been strongly condemned elsewhere as highly dangerous to health. The practice of boring the graves with a spear, as pursued by the gravedigger, and mentioned in his evidence, admits of a greater immediate discharge of pent-up gases, and may therefore prove more injurious to the health of those exposed to its influence. I consider the practice of the gravedigger in breaking coffins open with his spade, and laving water out of graves to be absorbed by the surface of the ground around, as decidedly contrary to decency and injurious to health. From the evidence I have heard, and from my own knowledge, I have no doubt that this graveyard is dangerous to health, offensive, and contrary to decency."

Dr Douglas Reid substantially corroborated the evidence of Dr Grieve, expressing in the strongest terms his disapproval of all intra-mural interments.
At this stage the Sheriff having declared himself satisfied with the petitioners proof.

In November 1860 notice was published that the Sheriff had found the burial ground "is dangerous to health  and contrary or offensive to decency in the lairs." All burials  were ordered to be discontinued on and after the 5th November 1860 with the exception of 41 lairs which in total would allow for 101 funerals to take place after this date.
I do not have details of those to be allowed but it would have included that of John Wood who was buried there in December 1860.
All those who were buried at Newark Parish were later move to the new cemetery and re-interred there in 1902. Only a few head stones remain in the Glen Avenue site.
The Port Glasgow cemetery is also now full with no new lairs avaiable,all new lairs and burials now take place at Knocknairshill Cemetery
 

This page last modified on Sunday, March 06, 2011