Page last updated at 00:27 GMT, Thursday, 6 November 2008

Grave fears for India burial site

By Pauline McLean
BBC Scotland arts correspondent

Kolkata cemetery
The graveyard has become overgrown and many stones have been damaged

A team of Scottish heritage experts will fly out to India this weekend to help save a historic graveyard.

The Scottish Cemetery of Kolkata, the last resting place of up to 1,600 people, has become overgrown and many of the graves have been damaged.

Conservationists hope to restore the site, which lies in a densely-populated part of Calcutta.

Economist James Wilson - who introduced income tax and paper currency to India - is said to be buried there.

There are also hundreds of soldiers, jute traders, industrialists and missionaries at the burial site.

"This is a little piece of Scotland in India, a green space in a densely populated part of Calcutta," said James Simpson of the Edinburgh-based conservation architects Simpson and Brown, who has visited the site several times.

"Even the gravestones are made of Scottish stone - granite and marble, some of it brought all the way from home.

"All these people made Calcutta such a Scottish city back in the 19th Century."

But the graveyard - once the responsibility of the country's first Church of Scotland, St Andrew's Church in Calcutta's Dalhousie Square, has become overgrown.

Kolkata cemetery
The burial site graveyard is in the heart of Calcutta
Many of the stones have been damaged, their details barely legible.

The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, along with the Kolkata Scottish Heritage Trust, wants to restore the site, not just for historical posterity but because the graveyard will provide much needed green space in a densely-populated area.

At their invite, Mr Simpson will return to Kolkata at the weekend with surveyors from the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) and a cemetery expert from Highland Council.

Their task will be to carry out a first survey of the site and develop a plan for restoration.

The Scottish expertise will be vital - most of the names on the graves are Scottish, even the gravestones are largely made of Aberdeen granite - but they also hope to establish local training in traditional skills.

"The commission has many years of experience and expertise surveying and recording threatened buildings in Scotland - it is just one aspect of our role recording the nation's built environment," said Clare Sorensen, architectural historian at RCAHMS.

Grave in Kolkata cemetery
Most of the names on the graves at Kolkata are Scottish
"The Kolkata Cemetery is an important monument to the joint heritage of both Scotland and India, and we are delighted to be asked to survey and record this treasured place overseas."

It is a point echoed by Linda Fabiani, minister for Europe, external affairs and culture.

She said: "The Scottish Government's International Framework highlights the importance that we place on strengthening the existing links between Scotland and India. The work of the Kolkata Scottish Heritage Trust demonstrates how we can seek to build on historical links between our countries, and the opportunities for mutual benefit that this relationship can bring.

"I am pleased that the work the team is undertaking seeks to preserve the historic importance of this site for both Scotland and Kolkata, as well as working to improve the local landscape for the benefit of the local community."

The team leave for India on 8 November and photography and survey information from the visit will be made available to the public online at www.rcahms.gov.uk.

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