Wednesday 1 May 2013

Clearing the Ground

Some 1830s parish churchyards and burial grounds were so packed that they were regularly cleared out ... warning, not for those of a squeamish disposition ...

‘I never opened a grave without coming into other coffins of children, grown persons, and what we term odd sizes, which we have been obliged to cut away, to cut through those coffins, the ground being so excessively full that we could not make a grave without doing it; it was done by the orders of Mr. Watkins and Mr. Fitch, the sexton of the parish, that those coffins should be chopped up and the wood placed against the walls and palings of the ground. We have come to bodies quite perfect and we have cut part away with choppers and pickaxes. … The strings, what we term the leaders of the knees and the joints, have been so tough and so strong that we have been obliged to chop them away with a sharp instrument, a hatchet, and the coffin wood we have been obliged to saw in different parts of it, unless we came to a nail, and then we beat it away with a sledge hammer. The skulls and bones there have been holes dug for them, and they have been placed in those holes and beat up just as you would crack nuts, and the marrow bones the same, and buried. … we could not dig a grave without coming upon coffins that have not been buried 12 months, and some not six months. I was sorry that ever I was out of a situation, to be compelled to go to such work, but I did it for the sake of my wife and family.'
Select Committee on Interments, 1842 

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