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* Passing along Portugal Street on Saturday evening, about ten minutes before seven, much shocked at seeing two men employed in carrying baskets* of human bones from the corner of the ground next the old watch-house (where there was a tarpaulin hung over the rails to prevent their being seen, and where they appeared to be heaped up in a mound), to the back of the ground through a small gate.
Where this leads to, I do not know, but I should be glad through the medium of your invaluable journal to ask, why is this desecration?
Sir,— I feel more particularly than many might do, as I have seen twelve of my nearest and dearest relatives consigned to the grave in that ground; and I felt that, perhaps, I might at the moment be viewing, in the basket of skulls which passed before me, those of my own family thus brutally exhumed.
“ At all events, for the sake of the community at large, it should be inquired into.”
“ J. M.” The complaint here made is, unfortunately, applicable to most of the metropolitan burying-grounds, under the present system ; a system as dangerous as it is revolting and disgusting; the evil can only be effectually destroyed by an enactment of the legislature, prohibiting altogether interments within cities, towns, or densely populated villages.
* Many waggon loads were removed to a receptacle situated on the north-east of this ground ; some idea may be formed of the quantity, when I state, that five men were employed about a week.
The effluvia from this ground, at certain periods, are so offensive, that persons living in the back of Clement's Lane are compelled to keep their windows closed; the walls even of the ground which adjoins the yards of those houses are frequently seen reeking with fluid, which diffuses a most offensive smell. Who can wonder, then, that fever here is so prevalent and so triumphant ?
In the beginning of the present year, I was called upon to attend a poor man, who lived at 33, Clement's Lane; his health was broken, his spirits depressed, and he was fast merging into that low form of fever of which this locality has furnished so many examples. I found him in the back room of an extremely dirty house, his wife and family with him. On looking into the “Green Ground” through the window of his room, I noticed a grave open within a few feet of the house. The sick man replied to my observations, “Oh, that grave is just made for a poor fellow who died in this house, in the room above me; he died of typhus fever, from which his wife has just recovered. They have kept him twelve days, and now they are going to put him under my nose by way of warning to me!"
Enon Chapel. This building is situated about midway on the western side of Clement's Lane; it is surrounded on all sides by houses, crowded by inhabitants, principally of the poorer class. The upper part of this building was opened for the purposes of public worship about 1823; it is separated from the lower part by a boarded floor ; this is used as a burying-place, and is crowded at one end, even to the top of the ceiling, with dead. It is entered from the inside of the Chapel by a trap-door; the rafters supporting the floor are not even covered with the usual defence --lath and plaster. Vast numbers of bodies* have been placed here in pits dug for the purpose,
uppermost of which were covered only by a few inches of earth; a sewer runs angularly across this “ burying-place.” A few years ago, the Commissioners of Sewers, for some cause, interfered, -and ultimately another arch was thrown over the old one ; in this operation many bodies were disturbed and mutilated. Soon after interments were made, a peculiarly long, narrow, black fly was observed to crawl out of many of the coffins; this insect, a product of the putrefaction of the bodies, was observed on the following season to be succeeded by another, which had the appearance of a common bugt with wings. The children attending the Sunday school, held in this chapel, in which these insects were to be seen crawling and flying in vast numbers, during the summer months, called them “ body bugs.”
The stench was frequently intolerable.
Some months since, handbills were circulated in the neighbourhood “requesting parents and others to send the children of the district to the Sunday school,” held immediately over the masses of putrefaction in the vault beneath!
I have several times visited this Golgotha. I was struck with the total disregard of decency exhibited. Numbers of coffins were piled in confusion_large quantities of bones were mixed with the earth, and lying upon the floor of this cellar (for vault it ought not to be called), lids of coffins might be trodden upon at almost every step.
My reflections, upon leaving the masses of corruption here exposed, were painful in the extreme; I want language to express the intense feelings of pity, contempt, aud abhorrence I experienced. Can it be, thought I, that in the nineteenth century, in the very centre of the most magnificent city of the universe, such sad, very sad mementos of ignorance, cupidity, and degraded morality, still exist ? Possibly I am now treading over the mouldering remains of many, once the cherished idols of the heart's best and purest affections. There, thought I, may repose one who has had his cares, his anxieties—who, perchance, may have well fulfilled life's duties, and who has tasted its pleasures and its sorrows,—here he sleeps as I must sleep ;--yet, I could not but desire that I might have a better resting-place,-a christian burial.
* From ten to twelve thousand bodies have been deposited here, not one of which has been placed in lead.
t I have not been able to obtain a scientific description of these insects.
St. CLEMENT'S CHURCH, STRAND. There is a vault under this church called the Rector's Vault, the descent into which is in the aisle of the church near the communion table, and, when opened, the products of the decomposition of animal matter are so powerful, that lighted candles, passed through the opening into the vault are instantly extinguished ; the men at different times employed, have not dared to descend into the vault until two or three days have elapsed after it had been opened, during which period the windows of the church also were opened to admit the perflation of air from the street to occupy the place of the gas emitted. Thus a diluted poison is given in exchange from the dead to the living in one of the most frequented thoroughfares of the metropolis. The other vaults underneath the church are also much crowded with dead. From some cause, at present doubtful, these vaults were discovered to be on fire* upwards of fifty years ago ; they
* This is not a very unusual circumstance; the vaults
continued burning for some days and many bodies were destroyed.
Drury LANE BURYING-Ground belongs to the parish of St. Martin in the Fields; many thousands of bodies have been here deposited. The substratum was, some years since, so saturated with dead, that the place was shut up” for a period. The ground was subsequently raised to its present height--level with the first floor windows surrounding the place-and in this superstratum, vast numbers of bodies have, up to this period, been deposited. A short time since, a pit was dug (a very common practice here) in one corner of the ground; in it many bodies were deposited at different periods, the top of the pit being covered only with boards. This ground is a most intolerable and highly dangerous nuisance to the entire neighbourhood.
St. Giles' BURYING-Ground. St. Giles' parish has the melancholy notoriety of originating the plague in 1665.* It was the fashion in those days to ascribe that visitation to imported contagion. I will not pause to inquire whether in the disgusting condition of many portions of this and other districts, sufficient causes may not be operating to produce an indigenous effect, which might again be ascribed to a foreign origin.
Pennant, in his account of London, p. 157, expresses himself strongly on the condition of this
underneath St. James's Church, Jermyn Street, many years since, were on fire.
* “ The year 1665 became memorable in London by the dreadful ravages of the great plague, which first broke out at a house in Long Acre, near Drury Lane, in the parish of St. Giles' in the Fields." London and Middlesex, by E. W. Brayley.