Many visitors and some townsfolks passing the neglected ground at the corner of St Mary’s Street and Greyfriars Garden in the town centre will have noticed its neglected state. For over twenty years it has been an eyesore, and from time-to-time local residents have tidied it up, but clearly, a more lasting solution is required.
What may not have been known to the casual visitor to the town is that this is a site of great historical importance. The whole area in the vicinity of Greyfriars Gardens housed the medieval Franciscan Monastery of St Andrews. Situated at an ancient gateway to the town it housed the chapel of this religious order known as the Greyfriars. It would have been the first point of contact for many pilgrims on their arrival after a long journey to the town.
St Andrean, Margaret Lumsdaine, past president of the Marie Stuart Society, tells me that In 1560 Scotland reformed from the Roman Catholic religion to that of Protestantism and on 17th April 1567, a few month before her abdication, Mary Queen of Scots ‘conceded and disponed’ the lands which were the property of the Dominican and Franciscan Monasteries in St Andrews to the Provost, baillies, councillors and community of St Andrews.
However, this transfer of property was not done without some humanity. The monasteries were given a concession to remain until the last monk in each monastery died, but of course they were not maintained after the Charters were signed off.
A new phase in the history of this site has been initiated by a group of local residents, who with enormous support from community organisations, have successfully achieved registration of the land through the Community Right to Buy legislation. This means that it cannot be sold to anyone other than the community group, and the next stage of the process will be a poll of residents in the area surrounding the garden, which, if it results in majority support for the scheme, will see the site transformed into a public garden featuring poetry by and about Mary Queen of Scots.
It is planned to make the garden fully accessible to people with disabilities and a feature will be scented roses which were in cultivation in Mary’s time. Planning consent has already been obtained for the garden, which has been designed by world-renowned architect Robert Steedman. A further planned development is to erect a statue of Queen Mary in this appropriate location.
Much work lies ahead to turn this imaginative plan into reality. But the responses and offers of assistance from many town organisations and individuals confirm that this is an exciting prospect with wide support. We may therefore look forward to this historic land, gifted to the town at a time of religious turmoil. once more being returned to public ownership and providing a quiet place of retreat within the busy town centre.
This article originally appeared in “St Andrews in Focus” and is reproduced by kind permission of the editor