Sunday 12 May 2013

The Testimony of Reuben Room

Reuben Room examined: I was in the employ of Mr. F. Green, as gravedigger in 1837 and continued in his employed for about six years. Our mode of working the ground was not commencing at one end and working to the other, but digging wherever it was ordered, totally regardless whether the ground was full or not; for instance, to dig a grave seven feet deep at a particular spot, I have often disturbed and mutilated seven or eight bodies; that is, I have severed head, arms, legs, or whatever came in my way, with a crowbar, pickaxe, chopper and saw. Of the bodies, some were quite fresh and some decomposed. I have had as much as 1.5cwt. of human flesh on what we term the ‘beef board’ at the foot of the grave at one time. I have often put a rope round the neck of the corpse to drag it out of the coffin, fastening one end of the rope to a tombstone so as to keep the corpse upright to get at the coffin from underneath to make room for the flesh of other bodies. The coffins were taken away and burnt with pieces of decomposed flesh adhering thereto. I have taken up half a ton of wood out of one grave, because I had to take out two tiers of coffins, some of which were quite fresh and we used to cut them up for struts, used for shoring up the graves. We had as many as 50 or 60 sides of coffins always in use to keep the ground from falling in when digging. We have buried as many as 45 bodies in one day, besides still-borns. I and Tom Smith kept an account one year; we buried 2,017 bodies besides still-borns, which are generally enclosed in deal coffins. We have taken them up when they have been in the ground only two days, and used them to light fires with. I have been up to my knees in human flesh by jumping on the bodies so as to cram them into the least possible space at the bottom of the graves in which fresh bodies were afterwards placed. We covered over the flesh at the bottom by a small layer of mould. I have ruptured myself in dragging a heavy corpse out of the coffin. It was a very heavy one. It slipped from my hold lifting it by the shoulders. The corpse was quite fresh. These occurrences took place every day.

The Times, 5 March 1845

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