The Catacombs formed an integral part of David Cousin's design, which was influenced by the Victorian garden cemeteries movement with its emphasis on tree planting and an informal fluid layout, an early example being the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris.
Dalry Necropolis and Newington Necropolis were commercial ventures by the Metropolitan Cemetery Association, using the same architect. In each case Cousin exploited a sloping site (towards the Pow Burn at Newington) to construct a terrace wall which allowed front access to the catacombs, thus reducing the excavation costs compared with a wholly underground structure. At Newington there is a staircase next to a vault at each end of the panelled terrace with a central entrance, all in Romanesque style.
The Cemetery Prospectus of November 1845 advertised:
A range of beautiful and substantial Catacombs, well lighted, airy and dry, has been erected on the most approved plan, which affords the means of Sepulture to a large extent, in leaden coffins, above ground, at the following rates, viz:
A Single Private Catacomb for one coffin £5-10-0
A Vault capable of holding 18 coffins £90-0-0
Ample space is afforded in the front of the Terrace Wall for Mural Monuments, for which the charge will be £3-10-0 or £3 each according to situation;
The catacombs featured prominently in publicity: the illustration above comes from an advertisement in the 1846/47 Post Office Directory. The same lithograph also appeared on the Company’s lair purchase certificates. However, attitudes to interment changed and there are only two recorded burials in the catacombs up to 1909, though there may be more.
The catacombs were B Listed in 1992. When clearing undergrowth from the top of the terrace in 2016 the Friends of Newington Cemetery uncovered a void. Work is ongoing to investigate the cause and identify the remedial work to make this area safe.