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churchyard : “I have,” says he, “ in the churchyard of St. Giles', seen with horror a great square pit with many rows of coffins piled one upon the other, all exposed to sight and smell; some of the piles were incomplete, expecting the mortality of the night. I turned away disgusted at the view, and scandalized at the want of police, which so little regards the health of the living, as to permit so many putrid corpses, tacked between some slight boards, dispersing their dangerous effluvia over the capital, to remain unburied. Notwithstanding a compliment paid to me in one of the public papers, of my having occasioned the abolition of the horrible practice, it still remains uncorrected in this large parish. The reform ought to have begun in the place just stigmatized.”
That the present condition of this burying-place is not much improved, will be seen by the following extract, taken from the Weekly Dispatch, of September 30th, 1838:
· St. Giles' Churchyard. What a horrid place is St. Giles' churchyard! It is full of coffins up to the surface. Coffins ars broken up before they are decayed, and bodies are removed to the bone house' before they are sufficiently decayed to make their removal decent. The effect upon the atmosphere, in that very densely populated spot, must be very injurious. I had occasion to attend the church, with several gentlemen on Tuesday; being required to wait, we went into this Golgotha; near the east side we saw a finished grave, into which had projected a nearly sound coffin; half of the coffin had been chopped away to complete the shape of the new grave. A man was standing by with a barrowful of sound wood and several bright coffin plates. I asked him, • Why is all this ?' and his answer was, “O, it is all Irish! We then crossed to the opposite corner and there is the bone house,' which is a large round pit; into this had been shot, from a wheelbarrow, the but partly decayed inmates of the smashed coffins. Here, in this place of Christian burial,' you may see human heads, covered with hair; and here, in this 'consecrated ground,' are human bones with the flesh still adhering to them. On the north side, a man was digging a grave; he was quite drunk ; so indeed were all the grave-diggers we saw. We looked into this grave, but the stench was abominable.
We remained, however, long enough to see that a child's coffin, which had stopped the man's progress, had been cut, longitudinally, right in half; and there lay the child which had been buried in it, wrapt in its shroud, resting upon the part of the coffin which remained. The shroud was but little decayed. I make no comments : every person must see the ill effects if such practices are allowed to continue.”
The vaults of this church are crowded with dead ; they are better ventilated than
others—so much the worse for the public.
ALDGATE CHURCHYARD. The state of this burying-ground is truly alarming. The fatal occurrence which took place in September, 1838, during the opening of a grave (vide the Weekly Dispatch of 9th September, 1838), when two men lost their lives, not only excited considerable alarm at the moment, but must convince the most sceptical of the dangers of inhumation in the churchyards of the metropolis. This ground is crowded to excess.
WHITECHAPEL Church. The vaults underneath this church have been suffered to fall into a very dilapidated state; the smell from them is very offensive. The burial-ground, adjoining the church, is so densely crowded as to present one mass of human
bones and putrefaction. These remains of what once were gay, perhaps virtuous and eminent, are treated with ruthless indifference. They are exhumed by shovelfuls, and disgustingly exposed to the pensive observations of the passer-by—to the jeers or contempt of the profane or brutal,
In digging a foundation for a new wall on the eastern side of the church, the workmen penetrated through a mass of human bones eight or ten feet in thickness ; the bones were thrown out, and for some time lay exposed to public view, scattered over the ground in a loathsome, humid state—family graves were also disturbed and many coffins exposed,-some of them literally cut in two.
SPITALFIELDS GROUND adjoins the church and is literally overcharged with dead. The vault underneath the body of the church is also very much crowded.
BETHnAL GREEN. There are two grounds in this parish, which are very full. The depth of the graves is on an average little more than four feet,—at a greater depth the water flows in.
From the daily papers of October, 1839 : • Indecent disinterment of dead bodies. Since Friday, a great deal of exitement has prevailed in Globe Lane, Mile End, in consequence of the interference of the police to prevent the indecent disinterment of bodies in the burial-ground behind Globe Fields' chapel. It appeared that a clerk, in the service of the Eastern Counties' Railway Company, being stationed on that part of the railway which runs close to the burialground in question, had observed two men and a boy exhuming the bodies buried in one part of the ground, and hurling them, in the most indecent manner,
and indiscriminately, into a deep hole, which they had previously made at another part ; and considering such a proceeding as somewhat extraordinary, as well as exceedingly indecent, he felt it to be his duty to call at the police station-house, in the Mile End Road, and give information of what he had witnessed. Inspector Mc Craw, accompanied by Sergeants Parker and Shaw, K 10 and 3, in consequence, proceeded to the burial-ground, and as they were about to enter they met a lad with a bag of bones and a quantity of nails, which he said he was going to sell. On examining them, the nails were evidently those which had been taken out of coffins, and the bones seemed to be those of human beings; but the lad denied that they were so, though he acknowledged the nails to have been taken from the coffins. The inspector and sergeants then proceeded to an obscure corner of the ground, and found there a great number of bodies, packed one upon another, in a very deep grave which had been dug ready to receive them, and the uppermost coffin was not more than seven or eight inches, at the utmost, from the surface. The breastplate and nails were removed from the lid, so that they could at once remove the latter, and from the appearance of the body, as well as of the coffin, it appeared to be the remains of a person above the middle rank of life, and to have been interred about a month or six weeks. It appears that the ground is the property of an undertaker in Bishopsgate Street; that owing to the low rate of fees, a great number of burials took place; but as few would select the remote corner as a place of rest for their friends or relations, it was used for the purpose of removing the bodies of those buried in the better and more crowded part of the ground, to make room for others.”
The extract from an important examination before Sir C. Hunter, and the case immediately following it, mutually illustrate each other.
On 20th March, 1839, a man named Josephs was charged before Sir Claudius Hunter, at Guildhall, with having in his possession some portions of leaden coffins, which had been stolen from the public vaults of Shoreditch church.
Sir C. Hunter asked if there was any additional evidence as to the coffin lead.
“ The vestry clerk stated that there was only one fact—that on one of the cases from which the lead coffin had been stolen, and which now contained the corpse, there was the name of the deceased, corresponding with one of the plates produced, as having been traced to Josephs.
“ Sir C. Hunter observed, that the sanctuary of the dead ought not to be invaded with impunity. The temptation to steal our bodies had been removed by the legislature, but now, the love of gain tempted persons to steal our coffins.'
“ In the vaults of a chnrch centrally situate, the burying-ground of which is, on the surface, in a most disgusting condition, a nobleman and several other persons of distinction, had found their last resting-place.
a rumour arose in the parish, that the right of sepulture had been grossly violated ; inquiries were instituted; men were employed to replace the bodies in the shells that were left, and from which the lead had been stolen ; a hole was dug, into which the remainder of the bodies was thrown; the grave-digger was privately examined before a magistrate; it was found that any proceedings against him would implicate others. The affair was hushed up, and the vault, which had undergone a thorough clearance, was thus again made available for the purposes of interment-again, perhaps, to be subjected to a similar purgation, when the cupidity of the grave
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