Thursday, 21 June 2012

The Quaker's Grave

Dead Man's Walk - Newgate

I have an over-active imagination.  I know this after having jumped to the most ridiculous conclusion last week.  London’s Newgate Jail, now demolished, had a corridor linking to the courts called Dead Man’s Walk.  The grisly name indicated the dumping of executed criminals between the cavity walls, rather than a pauper’s burial.

Only initials carved into the walls indicated the locus of individual remains in this hidden burial site.

So, seeing two sets of incised letters on the wall of St Nicholas Kirkyard, near the Back Wynd gate, this week, I thought I had stumbled on a murderer’s grave!

I established from the city archivist that the wall of the Mither Kirk on what was first called ‘Westerkirkgate’ was built in the late 16th century, so would have almost been the edge of the city as it existed then.  It added up, a criminal, a despised person, buried just out of the kirkyard.  But no!

When I returned to take a closer look, I found a graveslab on the ground below the letters which informed me this was the resting place of Margaret Smith, who died in 1669 and her husband, Gilbert Mollison, Bailie of Aberdeen, who died 20 years later.  The letters were GM and MS.  Duh!  So, it was an ordinary grave after all.

Grave slab of Gilbert and Margaret Mollison - St Nick's Kirkyard

Yet on further research I discovered not only was Bailie Mollison a magistrate, and thus well-respected, but his wife Margaret was a known member of the Society of Friends; a Quaker.  Sadly the Friends were persecuted in the city, despite many prominent members including Provost Alexander Jaffray.  Quakers did not believe in the need for memorial markers, much to the annoyance of others.  Mrs Mollison was at the time facetiously described as ‘wearing thin her knees’ due to the frequency of her devotions.  Gilbert remembered her as she wished with only her initials carved in the wall of the kirkyard.  Their family added the father’s later.  

But the children of George Mollison, hosier, decided they deserved better.  In 1834, when George died, the lost grave of Margaret and Gilbert was reinstated with a large headstone.  The family’s affection was clear in the motto “the memory of the just is blessed, they rest from their labours and their works follow them.”  Now far from despised non-conformists, the Mollisons were celebrated by their descendants.

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