The Mortonhall Crematorium is a multi-denominational crematorium in Edinburgh, Scotland. It is an example of Basil Spence's post-war expressionist style. Opened in 1967, the crematorium is set in mature woodland and is a Category A listed building. A walled memorial garden opened there in December 2015.


Main chapel, Mortonhall Crematorium
Main chapel, Mortonhall Crematorium
Garden of Remembrance, Mortonhall Crematorium
Garden of Remembrance, Mortonhall Crematorium
Mortonhall Cemetery, Edinburgh
Mortonhall Cemetery, Edinburgh

Architects Spence, Glover and Ferguson were commissioned by Edinburgh City Council in 1960 to build a new multi-denominational crematorium.[1] The project is a smaller and more refined version of Spence's earlier project at Coventry Cathedral. The project architect was John 'Archie' Dewar.[2] The City of Edinburgh also had architect Alexander Steele work on the project.[3] The crematorium design was published in the Architects' Journal in May 1962.[4] The main chapel has seating for 250 people and the smaller Pentland Chapel seats 50.[5]

The main chapel was built at an angle that could maximise the natural light. The windows are tall, glazed slits. The walls are constructed from white calcined flint aggregate concrete blocks in three sizes arranged to give a distinctive pattern.[3] The chapel has tall, angled fins that provide dramatic shapes.[6] The use of light and colour has been compared to the effects seen in Coventry Cathedral, also designed by Spence. From the main buildings a simple concrete cross can be seen, positioned on a small hill, a feature copied from Gunnar Asplund's Woodland Crematorium in Stockholm.[3] Overall the crematorium design achieves 'calmly expressionist forms'.[7] The design stands out from the other 250 or so crematoria across the UK.[8]

On 7 February 1967 a service was held to dedicate the chapels.[1] The Crematorium was listed as a category A building in April 1996.[9] In 2005, the crematorium appeared in the list of 100 best modern Scottish buildings published in the architectural journal Prospect.[10] It was one of five buildings designed by Spence that appeared in a list of the top 100 architectural works from the past century, compiled by the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS).[11]

Garden of Remembrance

From the outset, unless ashes were removed to be kept by the family, all ashes have been interred in the hill to the north-west of the crematorium, and the names placed in a small building viewing onto the hill, containing a book of names. This hill is known as the Garden of Remembrance, and also contains remains of all persons that were unclaimed after cremation.


A large area of land west of the crematorium was laid out as a lawn cemetery (not allowing upright memorials) at the same time as the crematorium opened. Whilst originally stark, the maturing landscape now creates a pleasant environment.

Although a "new cemetery" by Edinburgh standards, as it exceeds 50 years old, and with 1000 burials per year, it nears saturation, and Edinburgh plans a new cemetery to the south of the city.

Memorial garden

Memorial Garden, Mortonhall Crematorium
Memorial Garden, Mortonhall Crematorium

Scottish burial law requires that all stillborns are buried rather than cremated. In Edinburgh Rosebank Cemetery is used for this purpose. The same law requires that parents are responsible for the burial of their child.[12] However, a grey area appeared for children dying in hospital during the first few days. NHS Scotland (Edinburgh) introduced a protocol that these deaths would be dealt with by the NHS and Edinburgh Council, to avoid stress to the parents. No charge was made to the parents for this service. Prior to 1970 this resulted in burial of the remains, but following the construction of Mortonhall (as the first Council owned crematorium in Edinburgh) the law permitted these to be cremated.

In 2012, it emerged (through a freelance journalist) that the ashes of babies who had died shortly after birth had not been returned to parents.[13] Staff at the crematorium had disposed of these ashes in the Garden of Remembrance without informing parents. They later told parents that no ashes were left when young babies were cremated. An inquiry was held into the failings, which found that the families of over 250 babies were affected.[14] Findings of the inquiry were published in April 2014.[15] A settlement scheme was announced in January 2015, with the council offering up to £4,000 to families who had been affected.[16]

In January 2015, four draft designs for a permanent memorial were unveiled, with affected parents asked to give their views.[17] A design was selected that featured a garden planted with trees and containing a stone water feature.[18] A pond had been proposed in the original design but this was replaced with the stone water feature.[19] The walled garden opened in December 2015. It has plaques installed on which the names of 149 babies and infants are recorded.[18]

The Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Act 2016 now clarifies protocols.[20]

See also


  1. ^ a b "Mortonhall Crematorium". Retrieved 6 January 2016.
  2. ^ "Mortonhall Crematorium". Dictionary of Scottish Architects. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  3. ^ a b c "Edinburgh. Survey of Gardens and Designed Landscapes. 215 Mortonhall Crematorium and Cemetery" (PDF). The City of Edinburgh Council. 2007. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  4. ^ Grainger, Hilary. "Death, Dying and Disposal 10. Nijmegen, 9–12 September 2011. Book of Abstracts" (PDF). Radboud University Nijmegen. p. 17. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  5. ^ "About Mortonhall Crematorium". Edinburgh City Council. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  6. ^ "Edinburgh's Post-War Listed Buildings" (PDF). Historic Scotland. p. 49. Retrieved 12 January 2016.
  7. ^ Grainger, Hilary J. (2006). "In Defiance of a Stylistic Stereotype: British Crematoria, Architecture, Design & Landscape" (PDF). Design and Evolution: Annual Design History Society Conference., 2006, Delft University of Technology, Netherlands. p. 10. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  8. ^ Rose, Steve (10 December 2007). "Good grief". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  9. ^ "30B Howdenhall Road, Mortonhall Crematorium With Remembrance Chapel, Waiting Room, Lodge Houses And Screen Walls (Ref:43242)". Historic Environment Scotland. Retrieved 6 January 2016.
  10. ^ Leitch, Euan (10 November 2010). "Opinion: Edinburgh's post-war architecture should be cherished". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 January 2016.
  11. ^ Fulcher, Merlin (7 December 2015). "RIAS reveals 'Scotland's top 100 buildings'". Architects' Journal. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  12. ^ Burials Scotland Act 1855
  13. ^ Davidson, Gina (5 December 2012). "Mortonhall scandal: Grieving parents refused babies' ashes as mass grave at Crematorium revealed". Edinburgh Evening News. Retrieved 5 January 2016.
  14. ^ "How truth was able to come out". The Herald. 1 May 2014. Retrieved 6 January 2016.
  15. ^ "Mortonhall baby ashes: Report says scandal was a 'great tragedy'". BBC News. 30 April 2014.
  16. ^ "Mortonhall baby ashes: Families to be offered settlement". BBC News. 30 January 2015.
  17. ^ Sulieman, Cara (30 January 2015). "Mortonhall: Four designs for baby ashes memorial garden unveiled". STV News. Retrieved 5 January 2016.
  18. ^ a b "Families affected by baby ashes scandal visit Mortonhall memorial". STV News. 4 December 2015. Retrieved 5 January 2016.
  19. ^ Swanson, Ian (27 May 2015). "Mortonhall baby ashes memorial design unveiled". Edinburgh Evening News. Retrieved 5 January 2016.
  20. ^ Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Act 2016

Coordinates: 55°54′09″N 3°10′13″W / 55.9024°N 3.1704°W / 55.9024; -3.1704