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Dean Cemetery (also known as The Western Cemetery)


The informal design and planting was the result of applying picturesque theories of landscape design to a burial ground. A more formal area, dating from the late-19th century, was laid out in the old walled garden. The cemetery provides the setting for a number of significant funerary monuments.

The following is from the Historic Environment Scotland Gardens and Designed Landscapes Inventory. For the most up-to-date Inventory entry, please visit the Historic Environment Scotland website:

Type of Site

Dean Cemetery bounded by Belford Road and Dean Path including entrance gateway and piers with cast-iron work; old pediments and stone lintels built into walls.

Location and Setting

Dean Cemetery lies on the north bank of the Water of Leith, 0.5km upstream from the Dean Bridge. It is bounded on the north by Ravelston Terrace, on the east by Dean Path, and to the west by the grounds of the former Dean Orphanage.

There are no views out of the cemetery, views being confined to internal views along the axial paths.

The initial cemetery layout of 1845 is well recorded (1st edition OS 6", 1877) and the present arrangement of paths are as originally laid out, with some later minor alterations.

The original design intention was significantly altered when the picturesque walks were formed and when the cemetery was separated from Dean Bank in 1845. The walks on the bank have since disappeared and the area is now part of the Water of Leith Walkway. A mixed laurel and holly hedge separates Dean Bank from the cemetery.

In 1871 an additional plot of land was acquired between the existing cemetery and Ravelston Terrace. Known as the Middle Ground, this land was formerly part of the garden of Dean House. In 1877 a further plot of land, known as Edgehill, lying between Ravelston Terrace and Queensferry Road was purchased, although it was not developed until 1909. The last piece of ground to be bought was a nursery called Ravelston Garden which lay to the west of the Middle Ground and behind the houses of Ravelston Terrace. For the purposes of the Inventory only the area comprising the combined 1845 and 1871 layout is included.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

The 19th century 2-storey, barge-boarded lodge is situated on Dean Path. The twin main Entrance Gateways alongside Dean Path have tall wrought-iron gates set between stone pillars with rock-faced bands and pyramidal finials. They are flanked by low semi-circular stone walls with wrought-iron railings. The Boundary Wall to the north, possibly 17th century, is of random rubble incorporating several blocked up entrances including the old entrance to Dean House. The Inner Cemetery Wall, separating the initial layout from the later extension, is 19th century, re-using stone from Dean House. The Terrace Wall situated above Dean Bank incorporates stonework, stone lintels and pediments from Dean House, a 17th century stone Sundial with missing gnomon and various 19th century funerary plaques. The Funerary Monuments within the cemetery are considered to be Edinburgh's best collection of 19th century memorials, three of which are designed by Playfair including his own tomb.

Paths and Walks

The entrance to Dean House was from Ravelston Terrace, but this was blocked up when the cemetery was laid out, and the entrance is now from Dean Path to the east.

The Upper Ground is the south portion of the cemetery, the first area opened, and is rectangular in shape opening out to the west end and curving round to follow the curve of the Water of Leith to the south. Its layout contrasts with the Middle Ground, laid out to the north. An axial path leads through from the main gate on the east side. The planting and layout of the other pathways were designed in a gardenesque manner. The South side of the main axial path is laid out with clipped, dome-shaped yews (Taxus baccata). The axial path is interrupted by a roundel of grass planted with variegated holly and Irish yew (Taxus baccata 'Fastigiata'). Beyond the roundel the path continues and is flanked each side by Irish yew with 'lids' of Golden yew (Taxus baccata 'Aurea'). The two have been planted together, and annual clippings maintains the effect.

The Gardens

Some lairs are marked by Irish yews, now overmature and engulfing the gravestones.

Weeping forms of tree predominate, including ash (Fraxinus ornus 'Pendula'), oak (Quercus robur 'Pendula') and an assortment of ornamental weeping cherries. Other species include copper beech (Fagus sylvatica 'Purpurea'), sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa), common lime (Tilia x europaea), cut-leaved beech (Fagus sylvatica 'Laciniata'), and manna ash (Fraxinus ornus). Some planting of hybrid Rhododendrons probably date from the 20th century.

Of the original planting associated with Dean House, little survives except for a single yew (Taxus baccata) near the entrance gate. Wych elm (Ulmus glabra) grow on the banks leading down to the Water of Leith.

The general planting effect and design was to provide a series of subtle but changing vistas within a relatively small burial ground, an experience heightened by the contrasting dark and light foliage and the varying tree forms.

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts

Access contact details

Dean Cemetery is open every day from 9am until sunset.


The cemetery is one mile west of the city centre, next to the Dean Gallery.


  • Western Cemetery Company

  • Dean Cemetery Trust


The following is from the Historic Environment Scotland Gardens and Designed Landscapes Inventory. For the most up-to-date Inventory entry, please visit the Historic Environment Scotland website:

Reason for Inclusion

An important example of a mid-19th century cemetery. Existing planting demonstrates the picturesque theories of landscape design applied to 19th century burial grounds.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

1845, 1871.

Site History

Dean Cemetery was laid out from 1845 onwards, on land which had previously been occupied by Dean House and its surrounding grounds.

Dean House was built in the early 17th century by Sir William Nisbet who bought the Barony of Dean in 1609. Sir William was twice Lord Provost of Edinburgh and knighted by James VI in 1617. In the late 18th century the house was tenanted by Sir Thomas Miller of Barskimming and Glenlee, and subsequently by Lord Swinton; both were Senators of the College of Justice. The last resident of Dean House (1835-41) was James David Forbes, physicist and Principal of the United College of St Andrews.

In the mid 19th century, burial grounds within the city walls grew progressively more congested and there was increasing recognition of the problems this caused. At the first general meeting of the Western Cemetery Company in 1845, the Chairman described the Dean grounds as comprising a:

' a beautiful lawn near the Dean House and a finely wooded bank sloping towards the south and adjoining the river, which are considered by all who have visited them as being more capable of being laid out in a tasteful and ornamental manner as a Cemetery than any other ground in the vicinity of Edinburgh and which are unrivalled at one for romantic seclusion, proximity to the city, and facility of access'.

This land, amounting to about 3.4ha (8.5 acres) was bought by the Western Cemetery Company for £8,033.

Lord Cockburn, a frequent visitor to Dean House, described the site favourably in his Journal: The place was so heavy with wood that it was all that winter could do to make the house visible. There was an old garden, and a good deal of shrubbery, chiefly of evergreens'. A high position, well sheltered, the Water of Leith then pure, foliaged banks, and magnificent views ' what else could be required?'

W.R. Gray (Dean Cemetery, 1845-1945) notes: 'To visualise the place as it used to be you might stand where Principal Forbes stood and look through the main entrance gate, up a short beech avenue. The pathway is still as it was, and so too the roundel at the end of it, with the ash tree on the left ' just as they all appear in Walter Geikie's contemporary sketch.'

A competition was held, to which entrants were invited to submit designs for the cemetery. David Cousin (1808-78), the City Architect, reviewed the entries and combining the best ideas submitted, produced a plan for the new development. Cousin trained under William Playfair and, with experience gained from the layout of the Glasgow Necropolis (1842) and Warriston Cemetery, Edinburgh (1842), was experienced in the contemporary approach and practical issues necessary. Cousin used the existing structure of Dean House pleasure grounds, retaining the boundary walls and gates of the main entrance to Dean House, the main drive and Beech avenue, the roundel terminating the main drive, the circuit path around the south-west lawn and the southern approach.

Cousin extended the footpath network, in order to provide all year round access to the lairs. He lengthened the retaining wall of the terrace to the south, previously associated with Dean House, building up the land behind to the north and west. This had the effect of dividing the cemetery into the Upper and Lower Grounds and stone detailing from Dean House was incorporated into the wall. A footpath ran at the foot of the retaining wall and was linked by a series of paths which led down the steep slope to the Water of Leith. The grounds were planted, under the direction of the Superintendent of the Garden 'of great experience' and 'possessed of a scientific Knowledge', with colourful displays and a double herbaceous border at the entrance and hundreds of bedding plants raised annually. There was a rock garden, some parts of which survive to the north-west of the entrance. The tree planting included holly, lime, thorn and crab apple with weeping trees, elms, ash, beech and lime throughout the area. The cemetery was a pleasure ground as well as a place of rest.

In 1876 the second phase of the cemetery was opened, the Middle Ground. This was laid out on the site on the walled gardens of Dean House, purchased in 1871. the design was exclusively formal in contrast to the gardenesque layout of the Upper and Lower grounds. The area was divided longitudinally by a central path with three central roundels spaced regularly along the axis. Secondary paths were laid out perpendicular to the axis and there was an extensive scheme of tree planting so as to provide virtually a complete tree canopy over the site. The east frontage onto Dean Path was redesigned and it was probably at this time that the Beech avenue lining the Main Drive to Dean House was felled, in order to introduce a planting scheme unifying the entrance areas to the new and old cemetery areas.


Victorian (1837-1901)

Associated People
Features & Designations


  • Historic Environment Scotland An Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland

Key Information


Funerary Site


Sacred / Ritual / Funerary

Principal Building

Religious Ritual And Funerary


Victorian (1837-1901)





Open to the public





  • Historic Scotland