Tuesday, 24 July 2012


October 1856

St Giles Church

Vaultt 100 x 60 x 5 = 30000 cubic feet

In this space are piled up (and some of them chained together in unseemly heaps) about 979 coffins, containing the remains of human beings in every stage of decay, from a period of three years (the date of the last interment in 1853) to one, two or three or even more centuries, for it is said that several of these coffins have been removed successively from two or more ancient churches formerly standing on this spot. The older coffins are all of wood, and most othem in a state of decay. In some instances the coffin has crumbled to dust, exposed the dry and shrivelled corpose which has the appearance of an Egyptian mummy. Thirteen of these mummies were formerly standing upright in a heap in he recess beneath the lobby of the church in the south-west corner of the vault. They are now reposing iin modern wooden coffins, with loose lids, provided for them by order of the churchwarden some twenty years ago. With this exception, the modern coffins in the vault amounting to some hundreds in number, are all of lead. Of these, only thirteen are believed to have burst. When this occurs, there is no large rent, but an aperture in the lead, through which a horribly offensive gas as well as a quantity of putrid fluid usually escapes. In order to bury this fluid, it has been the custom to dig a hole in the earthen floor of the vault and when all the fluid is drained away to fill up the hole and solder up the coffin. What becomes of the gas is not so easily discovered, but the nature of it may be guesesed at by the fact, that in one instance the plumber employed in soldering up the coffin imbibed a sufficient dose of the poison to endanger his life, and had several days illness in consequence. This is by no means surprising when it is recollected that 979 coffins occupy only 30,000 cubic feet allowing rather more than a cubic yard for each coffin. In fact, the vault is literally full of coffins from the floor to the roof, as it can well hold. There is scarcely room for a person to walk through the central space from one end to tthe other. Consequently the unoccupied area is very small and easily filled by a sudden esscape of poisonous gas - and herein lies the danger. ... With regard to the general sanitary state of the vault at the present moment, I may state that there is a closeness which is much more oppressive in the interior than at the door; and as you enter the recess under the steeple vault the breathing becomes sensibly affected and nausea subsequently ensues.

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