Things Ain't What They Used To Be: Dark Pasts of Places (Part III)

SUP's Frances Mann takes us through the final part of her series on the dark underbelly of classic urban locations

Submitted by SarahManavis on 17-10-2017 17:11:01

An appropriate place to finish this foray into the new lives for bloody buildings past, is to have a look at a type of building where most of us will end up eventually: the Mortuary. A mortuary is a place where dead bodies are stored temporarily, sometimes pending examination, before preparation for the funeral. The term was first used in relation to previously named ‘deadhouses’ around 1865 – those pesky Victorians making death a much more organised affair once again – and from that time, numerous purpose built mortuaries were constructed around the country.

Longmore House

Longmore House in Edinburgh, now the Headquarters of Historic Environment Scotland, was once a hospital for the chronically ill, paid for with a bequest from John Longmore of Deanhaugh. The Edinburgh Association for the Relief of Incurables bought the Salisbury Place site and the hospital was opened in 1880. It was a hospital until 1991.

In the car park, there is a small building which was once the mortuary chapel for the hospital. It also served as a carriage house. There is even a tunnel underground linking the chapel with the main hospital building, so that patients would not see bodies being wheeled over. Today, this is the building where Historic Environment Scotland staff receive staff training, and if you’ve ever been in there in the winter, it’s still cold enough for the dead too!

Longmore House (c1924)

Pure, dead, brilliant

Saltmarket, Glasgow (1885)

Near Glasgow’s Saltmarket, on Jocelyn Square, you will find red brick building, which is the lost and found office for the local police force. A few years ago, the police spent over £350,000 renovating the building to cover up its morbid past.

If you had gone to the same building 50 years before, you would have found bodies. Dead ones. This was the City Mortuary, built in late 19th century.  It was conveniently located. The High Courts were just next door, there was a hanging site nearby and the mortuary itself was built on top of, what was originally, a graveyard, where many of the hanged criminals were buried. That’s efficiency for you, tried, hanged and buried within 20 minutes, and no need for transport! In fact, Jocelyn Square was once known as Jail Square. 

When the foundations of the mortuary were under construction, the remains of one Dr Edward Pritchard were found, the notorious poisoner known as ‘The Human Crocodile’. In 1865, he was sentenced to hang for the murder of his wife, mother-in-law and possibly his maid. His execution on 28th July 1865, was the last public execution at the Jocelyn Square site and it was so anticipated by the Glasgow mob that a window overlooking the gibbet, would set you back 3 guineas per person! And as far as we can tell, Dr Pritchard still lies under the mortuary building today, minus his leather boots, which were sold as a gruesome souvenir.

Glasgow Central Station

Not all mortuaries were permanent buildings. In times of war or disaster, other buildings could be commandeered to store the dead on a temporary basis. For example, some of the tragically few bodies recovered from the Atlantic, after the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, were stored in a local ice rink in Halifax, Nova Scotia. But here in Scotland, there is another famous example, which became a makeshift mortuary during the First World War.

Underneath the noisy bustle of Glasgow’s Central station, opened in 1879, there is another silent world of storage areas and rooms, one of which was a mortuary. The dead were carried off the trains, in stretchers, to the store, where relatives had the horrible task of identifying their loved ones, sometimes only weeks after they had been waved off to war. If found, the relatives often had no way of carrying their dead home. Some would pay strangers, loitering outside the station, to assist. Even years later, there were still stretchers dating back to the First World War stored in the station. You can now get a tour of these unseen parts of the station and the WW1 mortuary is just one of the places it visits, watched by the ghosts who remain to this day beneath the station.



I hope you’ve enjoyed our journey into the hidden places of Scotland’s bloody history. And remember, as you walk around our city’s streets, ask yourself, ‘what was there before’ because, believe me, things just aint’ what they used to be.

Glasgow Central Station (c1920s)


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