Meadowside, Outside The Howff


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Anna: This publicly accessible cemetery was once a common meeting place and socialising space for the city. It is also home to the thousands of victims of The Black Death buried here between 1585 and 1620. The plague pits were subsequently reopened for those killed by the Spanish influenza pandemic in 1918.

Anna: Right at the entrance to the Howff we have the resting place of Colonel Mustard from Cluedo.

Kevy: He is Alexander Mustard, who you can see depicted on the Queen Victoria statue, holding a ship. He was the original inspiration for Colonel Mustard, becoming well known for leading various colonial missions in India and in Africa, and having his capers serialised by DC Thomson in their newspapers.

Anna: Many of the tombstones are made from sandstone, which is why they have worn away in bad weather. As a child my grandmother used to bring us here for a walk, and to read the different stones and carvings. This is still an integral part of a Dundee childhood.

Kevy: Also buried here is William McNichol, one of the Howff’s stonemasons, he worked for sixty years on Howff graves and his own grave here is easily identifiable as it’s by far the most ornate.

Anna: You may be able to smell pies. I really can smell pies.

Kevy: I can smell them, I think it’s pie and beans.

Anna: Possibly it’s coming from the DC Thomson canteen.

Kevy: If you traverse to the far left corner from the entrance on Meadowside, you will see a very small building, currently boarded up.

Anna: This building was originally constructed for the keeper of the cemetery. Not quite a janitor but a more ceremonial function, to keep a light burning at all times, so when people came to visit the graves they felt that there was someone looking out for their loved ones on the other side. Inevitably this led to tales of the Howff being haunted, and as time went on and the ghost stories grew, the keeper’s duties also included chasing the more malevolent ghosts away. From the mid 19th century, the keeper’s title changed and he was listed in council records as “the ghost repeller”. Clearly, he was always a very small man, evidenced by the fact that he didn’t need a big house, and the keepers were allegedly often found asleep on tombs during the day, having been up all night.

Kevy: Near the keeper’s cottage, you may see the face of the Green Man sculpted in stone, with his head of foliage, happily vomiting fecundity. It’s a pagan fertility symbol, yet one that the church has happily used in their architecture since about 400AD. In Britain, the image of the Green Man enjoyed a revival in the 19th century, becoming popular with architects during the Gothic revival and the Arts and Crafts era, when it appeared as a decorative motif in and on many buildings, both religious and secular. This particular Green Man was rescued from a demolished tower block, or “multi” as they’re affectionately referred to in Dundee, in the 1960s. It had been incorporated into that building, having been rescued previously in the late 1800s when its original medieval building was being demolished. The green man represents the cycle of spring and new life, and it seems fitting that he has survived the endless cycle of the ‘progress’ that is knocking down the old and replacing with often ill-thought out new council developments. It just goes to show, you can’t kill hope.

Centre of The Howff

Anna: The tree here in the centre of the Howff is where people who had been unlucky in love would come and visit and take some of the berries and make them into a tincture. They would covertly feed this to person who had let them down in love. It wasn’t enough to kill a person but it would make them so ill that they forsaw their own death, and sometimes that would be enough to get couples back together. (LONG PAUSE) Sometimes it wouldn’t.

Leaving The Howff near the back of the Overgate

Kevy: We should mention the seagulls.

Anna: There have been reports of seagulls here that are on the larger end of the spectrum for their species. This has been attributed to their taste for bonemeal.