Sunday 11 September 2011

Grim Gothic Rubbish

WORSHIP STREET.—On Saturday, shortly after the magistrate (Mr. BROUGHTON) had taken his seat on the bench, a man who gave his name John Gardner, and said he lived at No. 6, Hertford-street, Haggerston, applied to the court to advise and assist him under the following circumstances:-
    He stated that about half-past 6 o'clock that morning, as he was passing a waste piece of ground (situated over the Kingsland-road Bridge, by the side of the Regent's Canal, in the possession of Mr. King) where rubbish is shot his attention was drawn to the spot by seeing a number of persons, who were raking over a large heap of rubbish that had just been shot. He went up to them, and was horror-stricken to find that it consisted of nearly six cart loads of pieces of coffins and human bones, some of which had the flesh still adhering to them. There was also a person's head with the hair on it, the face of which was so little decomposed that it might be identified. The coffins had very few of them been under ground, and some were almost new. The crowd, which consisted of the poor cottagers of the neighbourhood and their children, were busy in despoiling the coffins of the metal plates and handles to sell to the marine-store dealers, and the wood they were taking home for their fires. On making inquiry, he found that the rubbish had been brought there but a short time before by some carts in the employ of Mr. Gould, the dust contractor, of Shoreditch. The effluvium was dreadful, and the applicant fearing the consequences that might arise if its removal were neglected, instantly went to the police station in the district, and then came down to that court.
     The applicant's statement created the greatest sensation in court, and Mr. Broughton having sent for Holland, the warrant officer in whose district it was, Holland said the same statement had been made at the station, and he had no doubt but the police were now on the spot. After the lapse of about three hours Holland and the applicant returned to the office, accompanied by Inspector Tarleton, of the M division, and Waller, the beadle of Shoreditch, and the statements made by them fully corroborated the applicant's statement. Holland said that the whole place was in a state of the greatest excitement. On getting into the field he saw a great quantity of broken coffins and human bones strewed in all directions about the field. There were not then nearly so many as the applicant stated, but he had no doubt but that there had been, for several of Mr. King's men were then busy burying the stuff. The grossest indecencies were being practised, human bones in the state described by the applicant were being kicked about in all directions. He found a skull, the jaw of which had been tied up with a handkerchief, and which was stained with blood ; this was being kicked about. He then went round to the marine store shops in the neighbourhood, and found that above 20 lb. of metal plates and handles had been disposed of. He also found a quantity of coffin wood that had been removed to the poor people's houses about the place, and which had been broken up for fires. From appearances he should have thought the coffins and bodies had also been broken up with either pickaxes or spades. On returning to the spot he met Mr. King, the proprietor of the place, who received them most uncourteously, telling them in answer to their question that they might inquire of his boy what they wanted to know, but that he could not spare time to talk to them, as he had a hot dinner waiting for him. They went to the boy, who said the stuff had been brought there that morning, and that he had broken up some of the coffins, many of which were nearly whole. They requested him to accompany them and make his statement to the magistrate, which he refused to do without his master's sanction. Mr. King returning by this time, they asked his permission for him to do so, when he said the boy should not go unless he was summoned.
     Inspector Tarleton corroborated this statement, and added that he went to Mr. Gould's yard, and saw the two men who had carted the stuff, and they told him that it had been brought from a vault in Friday-street, which they had cleared out about 10 years previously. They said the carts had been engaged the night before, that when they were loaded they were brought to the yard, and that some of it had been buried in the Cambridge-road. They expressed the greatest willingness to came forward and give the fullest information.
    Waller, the beadle, said the authorities of the parish were determined, if they could, to prosecute the perpetrators of such a gross and inhuman outrage on public decency; he had himself seen a scalp with red hair on it, kicking about. He felt sure that many of the coffins were almost new ones. He had secured the plates of some, and would shortly be able to discover to whom they had belonged. The magistrate then ordered a summons to be granted for the lad in the employ of Mr. King, and the case was adjourned till Monday (this day) for further investigation.


WORSHIP STREET — Two men named John Roffey and Samuel Wright, carters in the service of Mr. John Gould, dust contractor for the district, appeared before Mr. BROUGHTON, to answer the charge of having unlawfully and indecently exposed certain portions of human dead bodies and also certain coffins or portions thereof, in and near a certain highway in the parish of Shoreditcb, on the 5th inst.
    Mr. Long, the senior churchwarden of Shoreditch, with several trustees and other authorities, attended on the part of that parish to watch the case ; and Mr. Grueber and Mr. Hobler appeared for Messrs Liddiard and John Mair, jun., churchwardens of St. Matthew, Friday-street, both of whom and several other gentlemen of that parish were likewise present, and manifested the warmest interest in the proceedings.
    The first witness called was John Roe, a labourer in the service of Mr. King, owner of the waste in question, who stated that between 6 and 7 o'clock on Saturday morning, while in his master's field, a cartload of stuff was brought there by the defendant Wright, who shot it amongst the other rubbish on the ground; and observing that it was entirely composed of broken coffins, plates, handles, and human bones, witness inquired whence it came, to which the defendant at first made no reply, but afterwards said that he had brought it from a vault which had not been cleared out for 50 years. The defendant then asked how much they allowed for such a load, and on being told that he would get nothing, appeared much dissatisfied and said if he had not understood that he would receive 4d. a-load, he would not have brought it there. Both defendants afterwards returned with two other loads, containing similar matter, which they also deposited in the same place.
    John Gardiner, a hawker, deposed to having seen a crowd of persons congregated over the deposit in question, in which he observed a human scalp with hair upon it, several bones with flesh adhering to them, and numerous fragments of coffins, some of them half lids and sides, and so sound that they could not have been more than two years under ground. The assembled crowd were busily engaged in carrying off the spoil, and amongst them he observed a boy with a bushel basket full of coffin furniture and a young man with a spring barrow completely laden with metal plates and coffin handles, which they were taking away for sale. He also saw a hair bed, not quite perfect, but which had evidently just come out of a coffin, and his feelings so revolted at the disgusting exhibition, that he immediatcly gave information to the police.
    Henry Longtnun, a lad in the service of Mr. King, next spoke as to the nature of the deposits brought to the field by the defendants, and said that he had himself secured a number of plates and handles, which he afterwards sold to a marine store dealer for 11½ d. He and another boy broke in half nearly a whole coffin, in which were bones and hair, the latter lying upon a sort of bed, and a quantity of other hair adhered to the outside of the coffin. There were greatquantities of bones among the refuse.
     When this witness had concluded his testimony, his master, Mr. King, addressed the magistrate, and complained of a misstatement which had obtained extensive currency, to the effect that he had discharged this lad in consequence of the information he had given to the police, but which was altogether incorrect, as he still remained in his service, and he had himself furnished every information in his power for the elucidation of the matter. He regretted extremely that such a transaction should have taken place on his premises, but it was done entirely without his cognizance and authority.
     Mr. BROUGHTON said that the statement complained of had certainly been publicly made in that court, but expressed himself perfectly satisfied with the explanation afforded by Mr. King, whose conduct throughout appeared wholly unimpeachable.
     A married woman, named Elizabeth Norris, also deposed to the loathsome character of the deposits, the effluvium arising from which was so overpowering that she with difficulty escaped fainting; and said that among the refuse that was kicked about she observed a thigh bone, with flesh upon it as broad as her hand and a foot is length, a spinal bone also with flesh attached to it, a silk handkerchief stained with blood, evidently used to tie up a person's jaw, and a woollen u.attress still bearing the impression of a human figure.
    Joseph Mortis, a gardener, gave similar evidence, and stated that the maaa which he saw wholly consisted of fragments of coffins, plates, and handles, and that there was no earth with them whatever. He also deposed to finding a perfect jawbone, with the teeth entire.
    Samuel Shearman, a marine-storedealer, proved having purchased 44 lb. of metal plates and handles, which had been brought in various lots to his shop, and afterwards taken away by the police and parish officers.
    Waller, the beadle, produced several plates, the inscriptions on two of which were perfectly legible, and bore the respective dates of 1818 and 1834. The witness added, that under the directions of the churchwardens of Shoreditch, all the human remains that could be collected had been since decently interred in consecrated ground.
    Holland, the watrant officer, produced several pieces of coffins, and stated that such fragments had been extensively dispersed about the neighbourhood, and that in five houses alone he found at least a cartload.
    On being called upon to answer the charge, the defendants severally said that they had been directed by the niece and sister of their master to proceed, at 3 o'clock on Saturday morning, to cart away some rubbish from the vault of the church in Friday-street, and in which they were assisted by the street-keeper,  gravedigger, and other persons. They were not aware of what the rubbish consisted, but afterwards
conveyed it by their foreman's orders to the field in which it was discovered.
    Mr. BROUGHTON here addressed the authorities of the city parish, and said, that as their names had been rather freely mentioned, he considered it but right that they should be allowed an opportunity for explanation.
    Mr. Grueber immediately rose and said, that the facts of the case were, that in consequence of the accidental sinking of the vicar's vault, during the construction of a new sewer, about 18 months since, such an intolerable effluvium had arisen from the displacement of the coffins as to cause the greatest annoyance to the parishioners. An order had therefore been issued by the vestry for the clearance of the vault, which the churchwardens had not only given strict injunctions to carry out with the utmost decorum and propriety, but had personally inspected the sifting of the refuse for nearly a week, and caused every bone that could be discovered to be reinterred in the vault. They had several witnesses in attendance to prove that their orders had been literally obeyed at the church, and that the bones which were afterwards found in the field must necessarily have been brought from some other place. The most positive directions bad also been given to Mr. Gould, who had been employed by other parishes on similar occasions, to provide a proper receptacle for the remains, which he had engaged to do, and the first intimation the churchwardens had received of his
non-compliance with their directions was conveyed to them through the public journals.
    Mr. Hobler addressed the bench to the same effect on behalf of Davis, the beadle, who had faithfully fulfilled his instructions, and submitted that if any outrage had been inflicted upon public decency the culpability rested alone with the contractor.
    Both the churchwardens also addressed the magistrate seriatim, and strongly urged the examination of Davis and other witnesses as to the above facts ; but Mr. BROUGHTON declined to receive their evidence, as he had no power to investigate the first part of the transaction, which had oecurred beyond his jurisdiction.
    Mr. Mair, the junior churchwarden of St. Matthew, then said that, as a demonstrative proof that the evidence had been greatly exaggerated, he held in his hand an extract from their parish register, which established that only 51 burials had taken place in that vault since 1809; and as 49 still remained, of which only one was composed of wood, it was perfectly manifest that such an immense mass of broken coffins could not have come from their vaults.
    Mr. BROUGHTON expressed himself of opinion that a most improper course had been adopted in employing a common dust contractor to fulfil such a duty, which ought to have been performed under the superintendence of the churchwardens, and with the direct sanction of the ordinary of the diocese, in ground selected by themselves. The whole transaction was a gross outrage on public decency, which had no parallel within his recollection, and as it was clearly an indictable offence, he should require the defendants to put in bail to answer the charge at the sessions, themselves io 30l. and two sureties in 25l., and leave it for the consideration of the parish authorities of Shoreditch to carry out the prosecution.
    The proceedings attracted the greatest interest, and the court was densely crowded during the investigation, which lasted several hours.

Times, 1846

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