The site was developed as a pleasure ground in the early 19th century. The Necropolis was largely created between 1828-1900. Several eminent designers of the Victorian period including Alexander 'Greek' Thomson were involved in the design of the tombs which are set on terraces around the hill.
The Necropolis was the first planned cemetery in Glasgow and was begun in 1828. Prior to this, burial outwith a churchyard had been reserved for the unbaptised or lunatics. Death from typhoid, cholera and fever was becoming increasingly common and there was a concern that epidemics would be spread by unhygienic burial practices. The middle classes wanted to protect themselves against these risks. The Merchants' House, founded in 1605, was a powerful organisation representing those holders who had progressed during the time when Glasgow was indeed the Second City of the Empire. They commissioned the Necropolis, partly to serve the additional purpose of providing a monument to the wealth and standing in society which had been achieved by the members. The land on which the Necropolis was built was originally part of the Wester Craig estate and had been purchased by the Merchants' House in 1650 from Stewart of Mynto. The Merchants' House quarried much of its land in the 18th century but the western slopes of the lands of Fir Park were incapable of being quarried and it was so called as the banks were planted with fir trees. In the early 19th century, the fir trees began to die back and were removed. The area had become a pleasure ground after new planting of mainly elm and willow was carried out, the construction of a walled enclosure around the premises, and the appointment of a Keeper.
In 1828 it was agreed that a Necropolis would be formed on the site consisting of around 1800 plots. Design entries were invited in newspapers and sixteen proposals were submitted. The proposals of the winner, David Bryce, and four other entrants were combined by the judges and 'improved as one'. A landscape gardener was ultimately appointed to carry out the work.
By the mid-19th century, the Necropolis was much admired, 'all the monuments in the Glasgow cemetery' conveying the 'dignified idea of being built' (Loudon). George Blair in his 'Biographic and Descriptive Sketches of the Glasgow Necropolis' in 1854 regarded the Necropolis as the Westminster Abbey of Glasgow. Nearly every eminent Glaswegian who died between 1832-1867 was either interred within the Necropolis or was represented by a cenotaph and it was 'a favourite resort of our citizens as well as a principal attraction to strangers visiting Glasgow'. When Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited Glasgow in 1849, the beautiful view of the Necropolis was greatly admired (James Stevens Curl, A Celebration of Death).
The Necropolis was to be non-denominational. The first interment was made in 1832. Since then, some 50,000 people have been buried in 3,500 tombs. Necessary extensions were made in 1877 and 1892 but these areas were never as popular as the main site. After 1900 the use of the Necropolis declined. Only one tomb, for the Blackie family, was created after this time. In 1966 the Merchants' House gave the site, with an endowment, to the City of Glasgow Corporation.