I finally found James Grieve beneath a holly bush in the cemetery. At least I think the bare stone plinth marks the spot where he was buried but dense prickles prevented me from burrowing too deep. I left the graveyard with a new curiosity about the man who made such a mark in life. Why has his headstone disappeared?
The gravestone is a symbolic resting place when you are on the biographical trail. But of course the story rarely stops there. I remember the sense of satisfaction when Ray and I found the grave of Comptom MacKenzie in a sheltered corner of Barra – a surprisingly modest stone for such a flamboyant man. In another seaside cemetery much further down the west coast, I was oddly moved to find Agnes McDouall’s name on a stone covered in moss – this was the woman whose love of gardening inspired her sons to create the sub-tropical fantasy that is now Logan Botanic Garden.
In the case of James Grieve an unmarked grave seems to add an intriguing layer of mystery to the man who gave his name to an apple more than 100 years ago. His face is in the National Portrait Gallery, his name is on a plaque outside his birthplace in Peebles, James Grieve apple trees still grow in old private gardens and some new community orchards. So why is his grave unmarked?
The reason for my search was a request from John Dickie of Broughton History Society to write a short biography for the latest newsletter. Kate Love, a member of the society, had rightly thought it would be interesting to feature the once celebrated nurseryman man who lived and worked in the area between 1859 and 1924.
So that’s why I was wandering round Rosebank Cemetery, mobile phone in hand. Apart from anything else it was a wonderful excuse to explore a space where the robust character of Leith is carved in stone (ship masters and wine merchants, candle makers and brass founders, along with their less publicly celebrated wives, mothers, sisters and daughters. In the good old days, women were best defined by their relationships to men.)
Luckily I was in no hurry; it’s not always easy to find a grave in a graveyard. And the plots on the ground were not quite as neat and orderly as they looked on the map provided by the very helpful man at Mortonhall Crematorium. I got there in the end and the story will appear in the next Broughton History Newsletter. But I feel it might be just the first episode, there could be more to come. If nothing else perhaps one day we could make it easier to find James Grieve by planting an apple tree beside that holly bush.
No, neither an apple tree nor a holly bush just a terrific old tree near the Pilrig Street entrance to the cemetery. A Camperdown elm maybe?