In the 19th century, kirkyards were over-crowded, had become somewhat unpleasant, and concerns were raised about matters of public hygiene. Out of this grew the Garden Cemetery Movement, which promoted the establishment of grounds in which to inter family members, in which suitable monuments might be erected and in which the public might perambulate, respect the ancestors and acquire some edification in the process. These Victorian cemeteries and the monuments therein are a 19th century phenomenon and we will never see their like again.
Edinburgh already had some cemeteries which were not attached to kirks, most notably Old Calton and New Calton Burial Grounds, opened in 1718 and 1820 respectively. But when the garden cemetery vogue arrived, several joint-stock companies were launched as profit-making business concerns.
The Edinburgh Cemetery Company was instigated in 1840, and Warriston Cemetery, the first of its garden cemeteries, was designed by David Cousin (1809 – 1878). Cousin later designed also Dean, Dalry, Rosebank and Newington Cemeteries, all in Edinburgh. Burials at Warriston commenced on 3rd June 1843, the first funeral being of 66-year-old Margaret Parker, relict of James Castle.
Edinburgh’s population soon put this new ground to good use, and many fine monuments – to the delight, no doubt, of masons and sculptors – were erected to mark the final resting-places of families and historical figures, for example, businessmen, artists, scientists, doctors and politicians. One of the most renowned of Warriston’s occupants is Sir James Young Simpson, the pioneer of anaesthesia.
Soon after instigation (in 1845) the cemetery was divided by the Edinburgh Leith and Newhaven Railway which was built through its southern half. A tunnel was included, with Gothic archways at its mouths, to link both parts. A new, long and narrow, section was created because of this and the majority of this area was used for interments. The rest of this new area was used for gardening purposes and included glasshouses and sheds to provide plants etc for the cemetery. The long-since dismantled railway line is now a public walkway.
The cemetery was in private hands until The City of Edinburgh Council took over the running of the site by way of compulsory purchase in 1994.