Tuesday, 11 June 2013


The prohibition on urban burial from 1852 onwards (crowded graveyards were gradually closed by order of the government) may have had unintended consequences for the poor. One was that the practice of quietly burying stillborn children in other people's graves - achieved by tipping the grave-digger - was now an impossibility.

... the body was found in the canal ... The Coroner said that some charge was made by the sextons of the different parishes for the burial of still-born infants. Since the passing of the New Burial Act, closing the metropolitan graveyards, the bodies of numbers of children were exposed in every way in the public streets, as the poor had to walk a long distance and to pay for the interment of the body of a still-born infant. He (the Coroner) felt that such a system should not exist, as poor persons, being unable to pay the fee, got rid of the bodies of their offspring, in the best way they could, by placing them in the streets, so that when they were found an inquest was obliged to be held, and the county was thus put to fruitless expense. He would suggest, not only for the sake of the expense, but for the sake of decency, that the parochial authorities should inform the poor by placards and otherwise that the bodies of stillborn infants would be received at the various workhouses, and interred without charge. It could be easily done ...
    A juror said that a charge of one shilling was always made, and he had seen persons bringing the bodies of stillborn infants for burial refused, in consequence of their not having the shilling to pay.
    The Coroner said that since the passing of the act, a very large number of bodies of infants had been found in the differnet districts.

Daily News, October 20, 1855

He had a female call upon him the other day with a new-born child, and produced a medical certificate to that effect, but after the last inquest he refused to bury it, and told her that she must take the body to the burial-ground at Tooting. The woman, upon making inquiries, ascertained that to get the child buried there would cost 9s. 6d. which she was unable to pay, and she told Mr. Powell that she was, therefore, compelled to bury it in her own garden, and two other applicants had also said the same. 
    The Coroner said if the body of a child was subsequently found in such a place, it might lead to the supposition that the child had been murdered .. [but] he could not see how poor people could afford to bury newly-born children when the expenses were so great.
    The prevailing opinion of the whole of the jurors was that the old system of interring still-born children in the burial grounds of parish of Lambeth ought to be contrinued, and would have the effect of saving the parish and the county a very considerable expense, and prevent the exposure of newly born children.

The Morning Chronicle, April 19, 1856

At Wandsworth, George Grove, 70, gravedigger at Merton Church, was charged with disposing of the body of a stillborn child, by throwing it into a ditch. Wiiliam Henry Corke, a carpenter livign at High park Merton said that on Saturday evening he gave the prisoner a box, containing the dead body of the child, to bury in the churchyard, with a medical certificate and 1s 6d. for the interment. On Sunday afternoon, he heard that the box had been found in a ditch ... The prisoner said that he buried the box in the churchyard and indicated the spot, but on going to it witness found that the ground had not been opeend for several days. The fee for burial in such cases was 1s., but the prisoner asked for 1s. 6d. which he gave him ... he believed the case arose through drink. ... Joseph Smith, parish clerk, and sexton of Merton Church, said the proper course was to have brought the body to him, and on the production of a medical certificate, he would have buried it ... There was no stipuated fee but he usually charged 1s. Mr. Bridge remarked that formerly there was no power to bury stillborn children in a churchyard. They might be buried in a garden. The witness said that was so until the act was passed.

The Times, 25 September 1877

No comments:

Post a Comment