Sunday 12 May 2013

Spa Fields Burial Ground

Mr COMBE: You deny what has been stated; now as the report in The Times contains a true version of what occurred, I will read the statements seriatim and say how they are incorrect. The report says that about 1,500 bodies are annually interred there. Is that the fact? It is Mr. Watts who says it.

Mr. Bird: Not more, I think, than 1,350, but the report further states that the burial ground is not capable of containing more than 3,000 bodies, whereas it can hold 25,000.

Mr. COMBE: Why, how many do you put in one grave. The ground is not quite two acres in superficial extent.

Mr. Bird: We put eight bodies in one grave. (Sensation)

Mr. COMBE: Eight bodies in one grave! How deep are they?

Mr. Bird: Oh, about eight feet deep, your Worship.

Mr. COMBE: And do you mean to tell me you put eight coffins into a grave eight feet deep?

Mr. Bird: Yes, I do. We put in two coffins of adults lengthwise, and then put three children's coffins at each end.

Mr. COMBE: How often do you remove the dead to make room for more?

Mr. Bird: We do not remove the bodies of adults.

Mr. COMBE: That seems to imply that you do remove those of children?

Mr. Bird: Not until they are decayed - when our rod goes through them. (Great sensation).

Mr. Vinall then observed that his brother had been a lesseefor only the last three years - he was lessee under a lunatic gentleman, who held the ground from the Marquis of Northampton.

Mr. COMBE: has the ground been consecrated?

Mr. Vinall: I don't think it has.

Several voices - It has not.

Mr. COMBE: How long has it been a burial place?

Mr. Bird: For the last 50 years. In answer to further questions he said that the average number of bodies interred there was 28 a week, but admitted that sometimes 26 were interred there in a single day.

Mr. Wakeling: - Why, 29 were buried there last Sunday.

Mr. Bird being asked if he had the burial registration book said he did keep such a book, but did not bring it with him. He positively denied that human bodes had been burnt there.

Mr. COMBE then read from the newspaper Inspector Penny's statement on Tuesday, which set forth that he had often visited the place and repeated seen sound and fresh coffins burning in the 'bone-house' of every size, and that the smell was intolerable.

Inspector Penny: And I will now depose to it.

Mr. Bird: Why, you have not been there for a long time.

The Inspector smile; upon which

Mr. Macey said, that at his request, the inspector had often gone there in every variety of disguise.

Mr. COMBE then read the statement of Walters, the engine-keeper, which declared that he had gone to the bone-house on two occasions on alarms of fire, and had with great difficulty obtained admission, the last time was the 2d of last month. In the bone-house were as many coffins as three men could carry; great lumps of pitch adhered to the chimney, which one of the men said was from burning pitched coffins; the smell was horrible and seemed as if of burnt flesh or bones.

Mr. Bird: We admit that coffins are burnt, but deny that bones or flesh are.

Mr. COMBE: What class of persons is buried in this place?

Mr. Bird: The middling and lower classes.

Here ther lady who it will be recollected made a statement on Tuesday last, came forward and said that she lived in a house near the graveyard, but had been obliged to leave it, as well as many others persons in the neighbourhood, in consequence of the intolerable and unearthly stench proceeding from the bone-house. One frosty night the smell was still worse than usual. She and her son ascended the top of the wash-house, which commands a view of the ground, thick volumes of smoke and sparks were issuing from the chimney of the bone-house; she saw two men carrying something in a basket which appeared very soft and to shake; took it to be human flesh. Her tenants who lived near the place were constantly complaining of illness from the smell. The weather became hot and two of the children died from putrid fever. (Great laughter).

Mr. Bird: Will you swear to what you statae.

The Lady: Certainly.

Mr. Wakeling: There are several witnesses who can swear to occurrences of the same kind.

Mr. COMBE then read over the statement of Catherine Murphy who lived by the graveyard - her statement was that she had seen the grave-diggers throw up parts of a human body, and then chop it up with their shovels; saw one of them seize a corpse by the hair, and on that occasion she cried out, and the men threw in the flesh and covered it withclay. She now added that since her last examination she had seen Smith, one of the grave-diggers, carrying the bottom and lid of a coffin towards the bone-house. It was at 6 o'clock on Wednesday morning. She had seen the grave-diggers throw up dark heavy lumps. She could not at first tell what it was, but afterwards knew it to be human flesh. The man in the grave tossed it up on the clay. He would then come up and pick the hair up. She saw very long hair at one time in the clay; had not seen a corpse seized by the head.

Mr. Watt: I have in my possession two coffin-plates of persons buried in 1840.

Mr. Wakeling: The statement mad by Mrs. Murphy I can corroborate by the testimony of Messrs. Dawes and Syms, respectable tradesmen.

Mr. Dawes (greatly excited): Yes; I can speak about it. I lived by the graveyard; the smell was horrible. My children became ill, and three died. I left the place in consequence for two years, during which time my family were in excellent health. I unfortunately came back and two more died. The sickness came from the graveyard.

Other matters were stated of a like nature.

Mr. Vinall said that he should be ready to confute these statements in a court of justice. He believed much of the bad smell arose from a sewer in the neighbourhood. He was willing to have the graves opened free of expense to any one who might wish it, and he felt satisfied that what had been said regarding the burning of human bodies &c was untrue.

Mr. Bird said the woman Murphy had admitted that she had not seen anyone seize a corpse by the hair, but only saw the hair itself.

Mr. Wakeling then annonced it to be his intention to interdict Messrs. Bird, Green and Smith at the next sessions; he had no doubt that the parish would pay the cost, if not he would pay for it out of his own pocket.

The parties then retired.

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