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The Oddment Emporium

A Cornucopia of Eclectic Delights

Posts tagged Death:

The Last Stitch
When sailors died at sea their bodies would, more often than not, be committed to the deep. They would be wrapped in their hammocks with cannon balls or weights placed at their feet to ensure they would sink. The hammock was then sewn up with the last stitch going through the sailor’s nose. If he did not wake up at the pain, they knew he was definitely dead.
[Sources: First hand account | Image: The Burial at Sea by Frank Brangwyn, 1890]

The Last Stitch

When sailors died at sea their bodies would, more often than not, be committed to the deep. They would be wrapped in their hammocks with cannon balls or weights placed at their feet to ensure they would sink. The hammock was then sewn up with the last stitch going through the sailor’s nose. If he did not wake up at the pain, they knew he was definitely dead.

[Sources: First hand account | Image: The Burial at Sea by Frank Brangwyn, 1890]

The London Necropolis Railway Line

The London Necropolis Railway Line was a railway line which functioned to transport cadavers and mourners from London to the newly opened Brookwood Cemetery 23 miles away in Surrey. The railway was opened in response to overflowing inner-city cemeteries. Throughout the early 19th century London had been subject to vast industrialisation leading to economic boom and, in turn, increased population with which the city could not cope. For example, the cholera epidemic of the late 1840s, which claimed the lives of 15,000 citizens, led to bodies piling up in the streets as cemeteries became saturated.

When it opening in November 1854, the Necropolis line was given its own platform at Waterloo Station (bodies would be kept in tunnels under the station as they awaited transportation) and a timetabled service saw coffins being transported by night, and mourners by day. The train made two stops; one at an Anglican cemetery and one at a Non-conformist cemetery. The carriages were also divided into classes so that posh dead people wouldn’t have to mingle with poor dead people. 

The service was never as popular as had been thought; in its heyday it transported a mere 2300 people a year, as opposed to the 50,000 envisioned for it. It did hang on for almost a century though, “Until the 1940s it remained a weird London institution, a ghoulish Victorian hangover that resisted time, social change and falling demand” [source]. Then, in 1941, bombing by Hitler’s Luftwaffe destroyed the Waterloo terminus and the LNR shipped its last cadaver.

[Sources: Dark Roasted Blend | Wikipedia | Image 2 | Image 3]

Burying in Woollen Acts
Following a decline in the wool industry, c.1660s, the English government, in a bid to boost sales, made it law that the dead be buried in pure English woollen shrouds to the exclusion of all other textiles.
As the document above shows, an oath had to be made by a member of the deceased’s family confirming that the ‘lately deceased, was not put in, wrapt, or wound up, or buried in any shirt, shift, sheet or shroud, made or mingled with flax, hemp, silk, hair, gold or silver, or other than what is made of sheep’s wool’. The same went for the lining of the coffin.
The legislation was in force until the 1810s, however, it went mostly ignored after 1770 by people who could afford to pay the £5 fine for noncompliance.
[Sources: Burying in the Woollen Acts | Needleprint Blogspot]

Burying in Woollen Acts

Following a decline in the wool industry, c.1660s, the English government, in a bid to boost sales, made it law that the dead be buried in pure English woollen shrouds to the exclusion of all other textiles.

As the document above shows, an oath had to be made by a member of the deceased’s family confirming that the ‘lately deceased, was not put in, wrapt, or wound up, or buried in any shirt, shift, sheet or shroud, made or mingled with flax, hemp, silk, hair, gold or silver, or other than what is made of sheep’s wool’. The same went for the lining of the coffin.

The legislation was in force until the 1810s, however, it went mostly ignored after 1770 by people who could afford to pay the £5 fine for noncompliance.

[Sources: Burying in the Woollen Acts | Needleprint Blogspot]

Human Head Encased in an Iron Cage
It’s been a while since I posted anything quite so macabre as this but the image of a group of boys making this grim discovery as they played in the sands at Hempstead, L.I., in the mid-1930s, had a grim allure for some reason. Perhaps because of its links with the golden age of piracy. 
According to Corbis Images the cage is ‘evidence of an early pirates’ torture device,’ namely, gibbeting. In the earliest recorded examples of gibbeting from the 17th century, the criminal would be bound in the metal cage and hung from a scaffold until they died of starvation, and it was a popular method of execution for piracy, highwaymen, murderers, and… sheep stealers. The positioning of such a structure next to public roads served as a warning to other potential criminals that they too might suffer the same fate.

Human Head Encased in an Iron Cage

It’s been a while since I posted anything quite so macabre as this but the image of a group of boys making this grim discovery as they played in the sands at Hempstead, L.I., in the mid-1930s, had a grim allure for some reason. Perhaps because of its links with the golden age of piracy. 

According to Corbis Images the cage is ‘evidence of an early pirates’ torture device,’ namely, gibbeting. In the earliest recorded examples of gibbeting from the 17th century, the criminal would be bound in the metal cage and hung from a scaffold until they died of starvation, and it was a popular method of execution for piracy, highwaymen, murderers, and… sheep stealers. The positioning of such a structure next to public roads served as a warning to other potential criminals that they too might suffer the same fate.

Death Crowns
In Appalachian folklore Death Crowns are curious discs of interwoven feathers that were found in the pillows of the dying or deceased, that is, in times when feather pillows were more abundant. If discovered in the former, they were seen as a sign that the person would surely die, whilst if found in the latter, they were seen as a sign that the person had gone to Heaven.
Measuring on average two inches wide and one inch thick, scientific explanation suggests that the feathers would become inadvertently matted by the bed bound person’s head, however, those who go in for the legend still believe it is a sign from angels that their loved one is with God.
[Sources: Image | Death Crowns]

Death Crowns

In Appalachian folklore Death Crowns are curious discs of interwoven feathers that were found in the pillows of the dying or deceased, that is, in times when feather pillows were more abundant. If discovered in the former, they were seen as a sign that the person would surely die, whilst if found in the latter, they were seen as a sign that the person had gone to Heaven.

Measuring on average two inches wide and one inch thick, scientific explanation suggests that the feathers would become inadvertently matted by the bed bound person’s head, however, those who go in for the legend still believe it is a sign from angels that their loved one is with God.

[Sources: Image | Death Crowns]

Baby Brothel Burials

In 1912 a group of archeologists were somewhat perturbed when, whilst excavating an Ancient Roman villa in Buckinghamshire, they uncovered the remains of some 97 infants. By measuring the bones of the skeletons it was determined that each had died at around 40 weeks gestation, that is, shortly after birth, suggesting systematic infanticide, as opposed to disease, which would have effected the children at different ages. Meticulous records from the dig, maintained by naturalist and archaeologist Alfred Heneage Cocks, show how the remains were found under walls and close together under courtyards. No other site has ever been found which yielded this quantity of infant skeletons.

These curious circumstances lead towards one plausible yet unfortunate conclusion: the babies were the unwanted children of prostitutes, and the building in which they were found was an Ancient Roman brothel. With no effective contraception, unwanted pregnancies were inevitable and frequent in the Roman era, whilst evidence suggests that children were not considered to be ‘full’ human beings until the age of two and, as such, were not buried in cemeteries. 

[Sources: BBC News | Thanks to Vintage-Royalty]

Mortsafes
Mortsafes were contraptions designed to protect graves from disturbance. The necessity for medical students to learn anatomy by attending dissections of human subjects was frustrated by the limited allowance of dead bodies - the corpses of executed criminals - granted by the government. As such, there had been body-snatching close to the schools of anatomy in Scotland since the early 18th century.
Many people were determined to protect the graves of newly deceased friends and relatives. The rich could afford heavy table tombstones, vaults, mausolea and iron cages around graves. The poor began to place flowers and pebbles on graves to detect disturbances and dig heather and branches into the soil to make disinterment more difficult. Large stones, often coffin-shaped, sometimes the gift of a wealthy man to the parish, were placed over new graves. Friends and relatives took turns or hired men to watch graves through the hours of darkness. Watching societies were often formed in towns, one in Glasgow having 2,000 members. But graves were still violated.
The mortsafe was invented in about 1816. These were iron or iron-and-stone devices of great weight, in many different designs. Often they were complex heavy iron contraptions of rods and plates, padlocked together - examples have been found close to all Scottish medical schools. A plate was placed over the coffin and rods with heads were pushed through holes in it. These rods were kept in place by locking a second plate over the first to form extremely heavy protection. It would be removed by two people with keys. They were placed over the coffins for about six weeks, then removed for further use when the body inside was sufficiently decayed.
[There are some fantastic examples of these still intact at Glasgow Necropolis]

Mortsafes

Mortsafes were contraptions designed to protect graves from disturbance. The necessity for medical students to learn anatomy by attending dissections of human subjects was frustrated by the limited allowance of dead bodies - the corpses of executed criminals - granted by the government. As such, there had been body-snatching close to the schools of anatomy in Scotland since the early 18th century.

Many people were determined to protect the graves of newly deceased friends and relatives. The rich could afford heavy table tombstones, vaults, mausolea and iron cages around graves. The poor began to place flowers and pebbles on graves to detect disturbances and dig heather and branches into the soil to make disinterment more difficult. Large stones, often coffin-shaped, sometimes the gift of a wealthy man to the parish, were placed over new graves. Friends and relatives took turns or hired men to watch graves through the hours of darkness. Watching societies were often formed in towns, one in Glasgow having 2,000 members. But graves were still violated.

The mortsafe was invented in about 1816. These were iron or iron-and-stone devices of great weight, in many different designs. Often they were complex heavy iron contraptions of rods and plates, padlocked together - examples have been found close to all Scottish medical schools. A plate was placed over the coffin and rods with heads were pushed through holes in it. These rods were kept in place by locking a second plate over the first to form extremely heavy protection. It would be removed by two people with keys. They were placed over the coffins for about six weeks, then removed for further use when the body inside was sufficiently decayed.

[There are some fantastic examples of these still intact at Glasgow Necropolis]

(Source: Wikipedia)

Corpse Road

In medieval Britain, corpse roads provided a practical means for transporting corpses from remote communities to cemeteries in larger towns, that had burial rights. Concomitant expansion of church building throughout the UK during the late medieval period inevitably encroached on the territories of existing mother churches or minsters. Demands for autonomy from outlying settlements made minster officials feel that their authority was waning, as were their revenues, so they instituted corpse roads connecting outlying locations and their mother churches that alone held burial rights.
For some parishioners, this decision meant that corpses had to be transported long distances, sometimes through difficult terrain: usually a corpse had to be carried unless the departed was a wealthy individual. Many of the corpse roads have long disappeared, while the original purposes of those that still survive as footpaths have been largely forgotten, especially if features such as coffin stones, on which the coffin was placed while the parishioners rested, or crosses no longer exist.
Such corpse roads have developed a great deal of associated folklore. The essence of spirit lore is that spirits, that is, spirits of the dead, phantasms of the living, wraiths, or fairies move through the physical landscape along special routes. Such routes are conceived of as being straight and by the same token, convoluted or non-linear features hinder spirit movement.



Similarly, corpse roads would run in a straight line over mountains and valleys and through marshes. In towns, they would pass the houses closely or go right through them. The paths end or originate at a cemetery; therefore, such a path or road was believed to have the same characteristics as a cemetery, where spirits of the deceased thrive. As such, corpse roads became intrinsically associated with fairy roads and the supernatural entities which reside there. 
[Image Source]

Corpse Road

In medieval Britain, corpse roads provided a practical means for transporting corpses from remote communities to cemeteries in larger towns, that had burial rights. Concomitant expansion of church building throughout the UK during the late medieval period inevitably encroached on the territories of existing mother churches or minsters. Demands for autonomy from outlying settlements made minster officials feel that their authority was waning, as were their revenues, so they instituted corpse roads connecting outlying locations and their mother churches that alone held burial rights.

For some parishioners, this decision meant that corpses had to be transported long distances, sometimes through difficult terrain: usually a corpse had to be carried unless the departed was a wealthy individual. Many of the corpse roads have long disappeared, while the original purposes of those that still survive as footpaths have been largely forgotten, especially if features such as coffin stoneson which the coffin was placed while the parishioners rested, or crosses no longer exist.

Such corpse roads have developed a great deal of associated folkloreThe essence of spirit lore is that spirits, that is, spirits of the dead, phantasms of the living, wraiths, or fairies move through the physical landscape along special routes. Such routes are conceived of as being straight and by the same token, convoluted or non-linear features hinder spirit movement.

Similarly, corpse roads would run in a straight line over mountains and valleys and through marshes. In towns, they would pass the houses closely or go right through them. The paths end or originate at a cemetery; therefore, such a path or road was believed to have the same characteristics as a cemetery, where spirits of the deceased thrive. As such, corpse roads became intrinsically associated with fairy roads and the supernatural entities which reside there. 

[Image Source]

Plague Village

In order to satisfy our morbid curiosity my friend and I visited Eyam plague village today. It has quite a fascinating story:

Eyam is a small village in DerbyshireEngland, also know as the “plague village” which chose to completely isolate itself when the plague was discovered there in 1665.

The plague was brought to the village in a flea-infested bundle of cloth delivered from London to the tailor, George Viccars. Within a week, he was dead. Within two months 28 others also died. It was suggested that the villagers flee to the nearby city of Sheffield, however the rector, Rev. Mompesson, feared that they would spread the disease to the North of England which had, for the most part, escaped the plague.

Instead, the village decided to cut themselves off completely from the outside world, introducing a number of precautions to prevent the spread of illness, for instance, people were to bury their own dead and church services were moved from the local church to field area called Cucklett Delph, which meant villagers could separate themselves.

The village was supplied with food by [outsiders]. People brought supplies and left them at the [boundary stone] that marked the start of Eyam. The villagers left money in a water trough filled with vinegar to steralise the coins … In this way, Eyam was not left to starve to death [and] Those who supplied the food did not come into contact with the villagers.

The plague raged in the village for 14 months and when the first outsiders visited Eyam a year later, they found that around a quarter of the village had survived the plague. The church in Eyam has a record of 273 individuals who were victims of the plague.

Images: [1-3 are my own] 1: Plague Cottages: This was where the plague began, the righthand cottage was where the tailor, Viccars, lived. 2: The Riley Graves: Situated in a field just outside Eyam (in order to prevent the spread of infection) these are the graves of the Hancock family. Elizabeth Hancock buried her husband and six children within eight days of one another but survived the plague herself. 3: Shows what is inside the walls in image two. 4: [Source] The boundary stone where food was left for the villagers.

Sin-Eater
Up until the late 19th century various villages throughout England maintained a curious ilk of beggar known as a sin-eater. These men would be summoned, naturally by the lure of a handsome pay cheque, to eat bread, partake of alcohol and recite ritual over a fresh corpse, in the belief that by these means the sin-eater would take into his body the sins of those who had died without chance to repent. The sin-eater would receive his pay and the deceased would enjoy an easy ascension to the heavens.

An account of Richard Munslow (d.1906)[1], the last sin-eater of England, reads thus:


By eating bread and drinking ale, and by making a short speech at the graveside, the sin-eater took upon themselves the sins of the deceased. The speech was written as: “I give easement and rest now to thee, dear man. Come not down the lanes or in our meadows. And for thy peace I pawn my own soul. Amen.

In Funeral Customs (1926) Bertram S. Puckle tells of a Welsh sin-eater in 1825 who, “Abhorred by the superstitious villagers as a thing unclean … cut himself off from all social intercourse with his fellow creatures … he lived as a rule in a remote place by himself, and those who chanced to meet him avoided him as they would a leper. This unfortunate was held to be the associate of evil spirits, and given to witchcraft, incantations and unholy practices; only when a death took place did they seek him out, and when his purpose was accomplished they burned the wooden bowl and platter from which he had eaten the food handed across, or placed on the corpse for his consumption.”[2]
Unapproved of by the church the practice faded out towards the end of the 19th century.
[Image Source]

Sin-Eater

Up until the late 19th century various villages throughout England maintained a curious ilk of beggar known as a sin-eater. These men would be summoned, naturally by the lure of a handsome pay cheque, to eat bread, partake of alcohol and recite ritual over a fresh corpse, in the belief that by these means the sin-eater would take into his body the sins of those who had died without chance to repent. The sin-eater would receive his pay and the deceased would enjoy an easy ascension to the heavens.

An account of Richard Munslow (d.1906)[1], the last sin-eater of England, reads thus:

By eating bread and drinking ale, and by making a short speech at the graveside, the sin-eater took upon themselves the sins of the deceased. The speech was written as: “I give easement and rest now to thee, dear man. Come not down the lanes or in our meadows. And for thy peace I pawn my own soul. Amen.

In Funeral Customs (1926) Bertram S. Puckle tells of a Welsh sin-eater in 1825 who, “Abhorred by the superstitious villagers as a thing unclean … cut himself off from all social intercourse with his fellow creatures … he lived as a rule in a remote place by himself, and those who chanced to meet him avoided him as they would a leper. This unfortunate was held to be the associate of evil spirits, and given to witchcraft, incantations and unholy practices; only when a death took place did they seek him out, and when his purpose was accomplished they burned the wooden bowl and platter from which he had eaten the food handed across, or placed on the corpse for his consumption.”[2]

Unapproved of by the church the practice faded out towards the end of the 19th century.

[Image Source]

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