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Cardross Crematorium

A Category C Listed Building in Helensburgh and Lomond South, Argyll and Bute

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Latitude: 55.9749 / 55°58'29"N

Longitude: -4.6735 / 4°40'24"W

OS Eastings: 233266

OS Northings: 678991

OS Grid: NS332789

Mapcode National: GBR 0H.WD38

Mapcode Global: WH2MC.52SX

Plus Code: 9C7QX8FG+WH

Entry Name: Cardross Crematorium

Listing Name: Cardross Crematorium, excluding cemetery, lodge, gates and gatepiers, boundary walls and railings and all other ancillary buildings, Cardross Road, Cardross

Listing Date: 16 July 2019

Category: C

Source: Historic Scotland

Source ID: 407208

Historic Scotland Designation Reference: LB52517

Building Class: Cultural

Location: Cardross

County: Argyll and Bute

Electoral Ward: Helensburgh and Lomond South

Parish: Cardross

Traditional County: Dunbartonshire


A clean-lined, geometric, Scandinavian modern style crematorium, opened 1960 in Cardross cemetery. It has cream-harled walls and green copper roofs, a prominent chapel and porte-cochère, Hew Lorimer sculpture, and intact internal decorative features. Designed by John Watson (junior) (1903-1977) of Watson, Salmond and Gray, the building stands prominently on an elevated, out-of-town site, with adjacent garden of remembrance, and with views across the Clyde and surrounding Argyll hills.

In plan, the building is arranged on an east to west axis, with square-plan porte-cochère, and store room projecting to the south. Uniformly plain exterior elevations are of painted roughcast over brick with regularly spaced square or rectangular windows. Doorways, windows and margins are edged with stone or imitation stone, with some door and window surrounds having flat, squared column detailing. Doors are mainly of panelled timber, and approached by stone steps.

The central, double-height chapel has a shallow-pitched roof and three long clerestory windows to its south, west and north elevations, over four smaller square windows on the north elevation. The west elevation of the chapel lobby is connected to the garden of remembrance via three multi-paned glazed doors, surrounded by advanced, squared columns and approached by stone steps. A shallow-pitch roofed chapel tower and rectangular-plan chimney adjoin to the east. The chimney was raised in height in around 1994.

On the main (south) elevation, the tall-arched porte-cochère has a pyramidal roof and ball-finial. To the east, the 7-bay loggia with rectangular-plan columns terminates at the east end with a sculpted stone figure representing 'All Embracing Truth' by Hew Lorimer (1907-1993), set within a high squared recess. To the west of the south elevation, the single-storey, 7-bay block contains offices and toilets.

To the interior (seen in 2019), the public areas are plain, light and airy, with good quality materials and craftsmanship. The chapel's central chancel, with semi-circular apsidal termination, has a Polververa and light green Swedish marble base, and vertical strip of Porto Santo marble behind the catafalque. The chapel has light oak panelling on the west wall, and on a gallery to the west. Four segmental arches open to the south aisle, leading to a small marble-lined chapel of remembrance with ironwork.

The porte-cochère and vaulted entrance hall contain semi-circular sculpted plaster panels by Donald Bisset positioned above the doorways. Four represent the seasons, and the fifth displays the Dunbartonshire county coat of arms and background landscape scene. The coat of arms is also mounted above the door to the chapel, above the chancel, and incorporated into the chapel of remembrance flooring.

The receiving room to the east contains two cremators (one installed in the 1990s), an upper level and staff facilities.

In accordance with Section 1 (4A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997 the following are excluded from the listing:

cemetery, lodge, gates and gatepiers, boundary walls and railings and all other ancillary buildings.

Historical development:

A crematorium and cemetery were first planned for this site in 1947, when Dunbartonshire County Council reserved a 10 acre plot in the countryside northwest of Cardross (Jupp et al. 2016: 180). While the cemetery opened in 1950, negotiations about the crematorium were protracted, with Clydebank and Dunbartonshire County Councils both claiming the more pressing need. Debate was only resolved in 1955 when the government approved two new crematoria - one for each council area (Milngavie and Bearsden Herald 1955).

Cardross Crematorium was designed and built between 1956-1960 during the peak era of local authority crematorium building in both Scotland and the UK (Jupp 2016 et al.: 31). The architect was John Watson (junior) of the firm Watson, Salmond and Gray, and a drawing of the proposed building was exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy in 1956 (Shearer 1956). Meanwhile, Malcolm Ross, County Engineer and Planning Officer, was responsible for the overall layout of the site and the garden of remembrance (Grainger 2005: 388).

Since the completion of the crematorium in 1960, it has been subject only to minor alterations. During the 1990s, a new cremator was installed, and in 1994 the chimney was raised by around one metre in order to comply with revised regulations on emissions. Additional paths were laid out in the garden of remembrance sometime after 1966. In 2019, works were carried out to improve accessibility, including alterations to the toilets in the west of the building, and the levelling of the route from the car park to the chapel (information from Argyll and Bute council 2019).

Statement of Interest

Statement of Special Interest:

Cardross Crematorium is a good, representative example of a local-authority funded crematorium, little altered since its completion in 1960. It belongs to a select building type that reflects changing funerary customs and state investment in early post-war Scotland. Cardross is set apart from other crematoria of this period by the coherence and simplicity of its design, its high quality decorative scheme and its landscape setting. With panoramic views across the Clyde estuary, it was the first Scottish crematorium to occupy a more exposed setting, signalling an emerging trend for harnessing landscape in subsequent design projects of the 1960s. The building also has interest as a rare surviving complete design by the architect John Watson (junior), with input from renowned sculptor Hew Lorimer.

In accordance with Section 1 (4A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997 the following are excluded from the listing:

cemetery, lodge, gates and gatepiers, boundary walls and railings and all other ancillary buildings.

Architectural interest


Cardross Crematorium, as conceived by John Watson (junior) in 1956, is of interest for its deliberately plain Scandinavian modern style, designed and built just as architects across the United Kingdom had begun to favour contemporary schemes over traditional designs (Grainger 2005: 175). They drew on Swedish civic architecture and the architecture of the Festival of Britain to forge a clean-lined and undemonstrative style considered appropriate for the buildings' purpose. In Scotland, architects were especially swift to reject ecclesiastical symbolism and styling in their plans and Cardross, with its pared-back classical detailing, shallow-pitched chapel roof, and geometric proportions, is a particularly good, representative example of emerging design trends for crematoria in the late 1950s (Jupp et al. 2016).

Functional in plan and in its internal arrangement of space, Cardross is notable for its refined internal decorative scheme and craftsmanship, with marble, wood and ironwork details. The above-door sculpted plaster panels of the four seasons, designed and cast by Donald Bisset, correspond with the classical touches elsewhere on the building. The distinctive loggia figure by the renowned sculptor, Hew Lorimer, inspired by John Masefield's poem Truth, is typical of his semi-naturalistic style. The repetition of the Dunbartonshire coat of arms throughout may point to the civic pride inherent in the building project, but otherwise there are no other local or regional traditions evident, nor any particular technological excellence or innovation.

The architect, John Watson (junior) (1903-1977), was sole partner of the practice Watson, Salmond and Gray by the time of this commission. Influenced by the work of early mentors, Sir John James Burnet (1857-1938), and English architect, E. Vincent Harris (1876-1971), he earned a reputation as a 'convinced classicist' (Dictionary of Scottish Architects), working on the repairs and remodelling of prestigious older buildings; the former Glasgow Academy, (LB33022, listed category A), and the Dollar Academy, (LB24546, listed category A). Some of his other industrial commissions no longer survive (information courtesy of a member of the public 2019), and Cardross Crematorium is therefore a rare surviving example of a complete design by Watson.

Hew Lorimer (1907-1993) is recognised as one of Scotland's foremost 20th century sculptors. An advocate of direct, in-situ carving, he produced many religious commissions throughout the country, and is best known for his allegorical façade on the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh (LB27684, listed category A), and the monumental Our Lady of The Isles, on South Uist, (LB50888, listed category B).

The building remains largely unaltered to the interior and exterior.


The crematorium and its adjacent garden of remembrance are located in the northwest part of Cardross Cemetery - a rectangular plot of ground in an elevated, rural setting above the Firth of Clyde.

Cardross was the first of Scotland's crematoria to be designed and built in a more exposed landscape setting (Jupp et al. 2016: 180-1), and the relationship of the building and its garden to the wider landscape is one of its main features of interest. From within the grounds, there are exceptional, panoramic landscape views over the Clyde estuary and towards the surrounding hill ranges of Argyll. Sited on the highest ground within the cemetery, the crematorium is also visually prominent from the entrance drive and gates. Owing largely to its light, bright, cream-harl, and distinctive, geometric profile, the building can also be seen in some longer distance views, including from the south shore of the Firth of Clyde.

The cemetery is defined around its perimeter by iron railings and partial tree-lines, and is accessed from the west via an entrance drive, with gates and lodge, which leads to a circulatory route and parking to the south of the crematorium. This setting is little altered since the completion of the building in 1960 except for the natural growth of trees and shrubs, and the addition of paths within the garden of remembrance. The boundary treatments, together with other buildings in the southwest area of the cemetery (the lodge and its ancillaries, and a bothy/former public convenience) are plain and utilitarian, and are excluded from the listing.

Sited to the north and west of the crematorium, the garden of remembrance is a relatively small, triangular area of lawns with some planting, perimeter trees, shrubs, and paths. The triple glazed doors of the chapel lobby (west elevation) open directly onto the garden, and to a long straight path that extends along the same east-west axis of the building. Additional circulatory paths around this garden space were added sometime after 1966 (Ordnance Survey 1966)

Historic interest

Age and rarity

Opened in 1960, Cardross Crematorium was built during the peak era of local authority crematorium building in both Scotland and the United Kingdom as a whole. Before the 1950s, only six pre-war era crematoria existed in Scotland. Located in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen and Paisley, these urban facilities affirmed the viability of cremation, but no longer met demand. In 1955, formal government approval for a string of sites ushered in a sustained period of state-sponsored building that witnessed the opening of 13 crematoria between 1955 and 1975, more than tripling the total number across the country.

Cardross was the fifth crematorium to open after the Second World War, making it a relatively early example of a select building type. The first crematorium built after the war in Scotland was Daldowie in Glasgow in 1955 (LB33667, listed category B). Greenock Crematorium, (LB34119, listed category B), was opened in 1959, and has some architectural parallels to Cardross in its Scandinavian Modernist style. Two later examples – Cordiner's Linn Park Crematorium in Glasgow (LB33549, listed category B), and Basil Spence's acclaimed Mortonhall in Edinburgh (LB43242, listed category A) were the only crematoria of this period to more dramatically break away from the established local authority style owing to the boldness of their designs (Grainger 2005: 218).

Cardross Crematorium was, however, the first in Scotland to be built in a more dramatic, exposed landscape setting (Jupp et al. 2016: 180-81), where the wider landscape views assumed a greater role than the immediate environment of the garden of remembrance. This heralded the start of a trend in Scotland, as almost all of the crematoria that followed during the 1960s (Perth, Falkirk and Linn Park in Glasgow (1962), Ayr (1966) and Clydebank (1967

shared this characteristic to varying degrees, with good landscape views of hills, valleys, or wooded parks (Grainger 2005: 244-45).

Social historical interest

In just a few generations, cremation developed from the eccentric choice of the few at the very start of the 20th century, to the most common method of dealing with the dead by the late 1970s (Jupp et al. 2016: 185). In the early decades, architects were challenged to create buildings and landscapes with no clear precedent. The experience of the First and Second World Wars changed attitudes to death, mourning and memorialisation, bringing greater social acceptability and demand for cremation services from a more urban and secularised society. Following on from seminal examples (such as Golders Green in London, 1901-39) a new architecture of crematoria became well-established throughout the United Kingdom, with buildings and landscapes designed to accommodate new funerary customs for a changed population.

In post-war Scotland, crematoria and their landscapes took their place alongside other public and civic buildings and town-planning projects that together, symbolised investment in progressive social policies and a greater regard for how people interacted with space. Cardross Crematorium is a good, representative example of this select building type, firmly rooted in the 20th century. Its location, (dependent on motor transport), components, spatial arrangements, non-religious internal decorative scheme, and accompanying garden of remembrance reflect ideas and trends long gestated, and made possible through the programme of national post-war reconstruction.

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