Staffordshire Burials

This is an article from the Lichfield Mercury of June 1929:

The custom of burying wishing the precincts of towns or cities did not prevail until about the year 750; and it was not till near the Norman Conquest that, in this country, interment were made in the churches, unless it happened that the persons reputed of great sanctity were so honoured, as in the cases of St Audrey ad St Chad. Gradually founders and patrons of churches were given interment near the sacred fabric, at first being laid in the porch, or the entry to the cloisters, or in the cloister itself, or may be in the chapter house or the sacristy. Sometimes bodies were deposited in the walls, at first on the outside, and then on the inside. Later came burials in the aisles and the establishment of chantries in them.

The reverent treatment father dead has characterised civilised men in all ages and honourable interment has bee considered conducive to the repose of the departed spirit….

In early times bodies were disposed for burial in winding sheets or in shrouds. For persons of high rank or dignitaries of the church stone coffins came into use; a number of ancient stone coffins have been found in Lichfield Cathedral from time to time, as reported in the Gentleman’s Magazine.

Of the 35 abbots who ruled over etc destinies of the rich ad powerful monastery of Burton on Trent, only one is reported to have been “buried sumptuously” They all doubtless found interment beneath the floors of the various chapels, and filled some of the stone coffins found in recent times lying about neglected in the abbey grounds.

Churchyards and cemeteries used as Christian burial places are duly consecrated to that purpose by a religious ceremony. Yet in a consecrated burial ground certain portions are in higher favour than others. The part of the churchyard which lies to the north of the sacred edifice is to regarded with favour as a last resting place because it is always under the shadow of the tall building.

In South Staffordshire in bygone times it was a common practice for sextons to bury unbaptised infants under the churchyard yew tree. To be buried inside the sacred edifice was a much sought privilege.

Internal interment was prized; and the nearer to the alter the more so. Such favoured sepulture usually fell to the families of local magnates till intramural burial was prohibited. An old rhyming epitaph has it:

Here lies I at the church’s door.

Here lies I because I am poor;

The further in, the more to pay

But here lies I as snug as they….

Concerning a chancel vault and its supposed proprietary rights, an extraordinary entry is that found in St Leonard’s register at Bilston:

“1754 3 March 22 On this day was buried n the family vault, in the south chancel of the Parish Church of Wednesbury, Elizabeth, the daughter of Edward best, vicar of Wednesbury, and minister of Bilston, and of Mary his wife. She died of the whooping-cough and conclusions on Tuesday, the 19th inst., aged 22 weeks, and was placed within the coffin of her grandfather, the late Rev. Mr Edward Best, heretofore vicar of Wednesbury, who was interred in the same vault 35 years ago. His corpse was entirely reduced to dust but his coffin being made of inch boards of ye heart of oak, though somewhat decayed, seemed strong enough to continue many years longer. “

The treatment of the bodies of Non Anglicans was of a different order, this from Tamworth’s burial entries:

1606 Sep 5 Was buried in a ditch, William Tomlinson, a papist

1613 Aug 13 Was interred at night, Thomas Orto, of Ami’gton, recusant

1644 – March 1 Cast into the ground, the body of Ellen, wife of Richard Enson, a peopling.

By the 18th century some enlightenment seems to have been shown at Wednesbury with:

1706 – Aug 18 George, son of Andrew and Mary Steevens, Roman Catholics, was put into a grave in ye churchyard of Wednesbury

1755 – Thomas Palin, an anabaptist, was put into a grave in the churchyard.

I have found a number of midnight burials, one of which was a suicide, others were traitors, but in Bristol, so was the funeral of the city’s most famous philanthropist, Edward Colston, who left vast sums of money to local charities, and his coffin was preceded by children who were his beneficiaries, in a heavy downpour, from Lawford’s Gate to his final resting place in All Saints’ Church.

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