Originally built for the shipwrights and mariners involved in the construction of the Great Michael, the chapel was a sizeable building on grounds proportionate to its status that were used by the monks as a garden and vegetable plot. The dwarf wall at the end of the path marks the exterior of the Chapel’s side wall.
This patch of ground in the middle of Newhaven eventually became the village’s burial ground, along with the churchyard of North Leith Parish Church.
St Andrew’s Church is built on part of the garden grounds, which was acquired from the Free Fishermen’s Society in 1851. The Society had earlier purchased it for £53 from James Morton, a coal merchant, in 1766.
The Sasine described the land as ‘a fourth part’ and Tubbs and Stevenson’s book ‘Newhaven’s Forgotten Burial Ground’ states that the land amounted to some 7000 square feet.
Records show that the burial ground has been in use since 1505, when an unnamed French shipwright was interred here. It was said that James IV, who took great interest in the building of his new flagship, took pity on the stricken workman and paid for his medical care and treatment. After the shipwright’s death, the King gave the poor widow a sum of money and paid for her to return to her family in Rouen.
Burial records list Auchinlecks, Carnies, Fluckers, Listons, Lintons, Mains, Nobles, Rutherfords, Youngs — all good Newhaven surnames — and many others who were interred in this God’s Acre, a function it was to fulfil until 1848 when it had no further room left.
The land was once owned and managed by the Free Fishermen’s Society of Newhaven before being compulsorily purchased by Edinburgh Corporation in 1972 at the time of the village’s redevelopment. Although still in the Council’s ownership, it is now tended by the Newhaven Heritage Community Gardens Group which looks after this patch of Newhaven’s history.
In 1972, not long after Newhaven’s redevelopment, when an archaeological dig was undertaken, a number of skeletons were discovered. Pottery, iron coffin handles and a Charles I coin were also found. Some graves had clearly been disturbed, and bodies (or parts of them) had to be re-interred.
Even today, the Newhaven Heritage Gardens Group, tend not to dig down too often or too deep out of respect for the graveyard’s residents.
Thanks to the Newhaven Heritage Community Gardens Group, the garden’s attractiveness and tranquillity is being restored.
If you are willing to give occasional assistance to the group’s efforts, please click on the ‘Volunteer’ button for someone to contact you with more details. Working in a garden area on your own is not only healthy exercise but is soothing therapy. Please message Moira through our Facebook page or email her and she will discuss with you what you could do.