Nefarious goings on at Ewer St

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Tuesday 3 February 2009 6.12pm
Conducting research on Ewer St and the former burial ground in the area I came across this rather wonderful piece of descriptive text, thought you might enjoy it:

"At a late hour on Wednesday night, the neighbourhood of Ewer Street, In the Borough, was thrown into great confusion by the report that an attempt had been made by two of that by now very numerous body called 'bodysnatchers' to disinter the body of a child at Crawford's private burial ground in that street.
Yesterday the two accused persons, whose names are george Harris and Thomas Wallis, were conducted in the midst of an immense multitude to the office, and charged with having attempted to commit the odious robbery. Another person was suspected of having been concerned.
John McDonnel, watchman of the Clink Liberty, stated, that in consequence of information which he had received that some of the graves were to be opened on Wednesday night, In Crawford's burial ground, he went, accompanied by other watchmen, to the vicinity of the scene of action, at half past 12 o'clock, and heard a noise like scrambling over a wall. Upon making a proper search, they found thr two prisoners concealed in a privy adjoining the burial ground, and were convinced that an interruption was thuis given to the work of raising up a dead body, for a newly-made grave had been partly emptied of the earth.
The magistrate called upon the prisoners to account for their presence in a place where they could have had no business at any hour of the night.
Harris at once admitted that he had gone to the burial ground, accompanied by his 'mate', for the purpose of getting hold of the body of a child that had died a few days before; and he rgretted that he had been disturbed in his business by the watchman on the night in question. He hoped, however, it would not be considered a felony, when he assured the magistrate that he had received full permission from the gravedigger, John Hill, to take possession of the corpse. A bargain had been made between them the night before, at the Roebuck public house, over six pots of half and half, and the gravedigger told him the exact spot there the child was to be got at, at the same time assuring him that the thing could be done with ease, as the coffin was just fit for gentlemen of his description, being kept together by slight tacks, which would soon give way to a pickaxe. The gravedigger gave him some other information, which comprehended, amongst many important instructions, the easiest method of gaining access to the ground; and promised him the soap impression of the key of the vault, where respectable bodies could always be got at. This kindness ended, upon the part of the gravedigger, with the information that a tall Irishman, who died of a surfeit, was to be shoved into the ground on Thursday, and would be excellent for the knife. Fve shillings was then put into the hands of the gravedigger, as a recompense for this service, and Harris and Wallis proceeded to the grave at the proper hour and with the proper implements. They had just commenced operations when they heard a hue and cry, upon which they made the best of their way over the wall, there being no hole in the ground in which they could hide themselves - for they would rather wade through a river than be taken in such a business. They knew how they got into a mess; for Bill Hollis and Murphy, who were at the head of the profession, knew their success, envied them their increasing business, and lay in wait and had a 'down' on them in all directions.
Mr Allen, upon hearing this defence, sent for the gravedigger, who soon made his appearance, accompanied by Mr Wild, the undertaker, and the owner of the burial ground.
Hill upon being confronted by his accusers, opened his eyes to the utmost stretch, and declared, with the most sanctified look, and in a corresponding tone, that the gentlemen must be mistaken, for he had never before seen them. The 'gentlemen', however, persisted in declaring that the truth had been spoken, and they were corroborated in their assertion by the servant girl at the Roebuck, who, upon looking at the parties, said most positvely that she had sen the gravedigger and the two 'gentlemen' drinking together on the night the bargain was made, at the rate of two pots a man. Upon hearing these tidings, the gravedigger became greatly agitated; he denied the fact of having joined in the conspiracy against the dead, but he admitted that he now recollected having seem the prisoners once before in Crawford's burial ground.
The Magistrate observed, that there was very little doubt of the part taken by the gravedigger in the traffic now going on to such extent amongst the profession; and ordered that he should be placed at the bar with his companions.
The three prisoners were then ordered to find bail, in default of which they were committed to prison."
(The Times, November 22nd 1822)

http://www.londonburials.co.uk/
Tuesday 3 February 2009 8.14pm
Fascinating stuff. Thanks for the post.

Tuesday 3 February 2009 9.13pm
...amazing. I especially loved the bit about the 'tall Irishman, who died of a surfeit', due to be 'shoved' into the ground on Tuesday. What part of that merited said shoving??
Wednesday 4 February 2009 9.17am
Great stuff. Love the promise of the soap impression of the key to the vault. I need to go to the Roebuck now.

The Egyptian Avenue (or corridor) and the Circle of Lebanon in the west side of Highgate Cemetery have tombs dug into the hillside. The doors used to have small gaps and if you looked carefully you could see coffins on shelves. I used to go regularly and show friends the one with the big hole at the head end. The head was the most valuable part.
Thursday 5 February 2009 5.24pm
Thanks Tolstoy - so interesting. What is the research you conducting for?
Friday 6 February 2009 5.36pm
That really is fascinating! I like the quotes around "gentlemen".
Friday 6 February 2009 6.05pm
Sorry to be so thick but what were they going to do with the child's body?
Friday 6 February 2009 6.32pm
jackie rokotnitz wrote:
Sorry to be so thick but what were they going to do with the child's body?

Sell it to a surgeon (or more likely his agent) to be used for the teaching of anatomy to student doctors.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Body-snatching#Body-snatching_in_the_United_Kingdom
Friday 6 February 2009 7.25pm
Lots of demand at Guy's and St. Thomas, no doubt.
Friday 6 February 2009 8.21pm
Sir Astley Cooper, chief surgeon to Guy's hospital andone of the most famous surgeons of the first half of the nineteenth century certainly bought corpses:

Cooper's evidence before Parliamentary enquiry before the Anatomy Act wrote:
“There is no person, let his situation be what it may, whom if I were disposed to dissect, I could not obtain. The law only enhances the price and does not prevent the exhumation. ”
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