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Bells and Burials

April 19, 2012

In 1746 Christ Church “the said parish was a populous place and the ancient churchyard so very small and full of Corpses that there was not room for he inhabitants to bring in their dead. So was consecrated a new churchyard in Duck Lane.”

In June that year Thomas Paty submitted an invoice for building a pair of freestone piers costing £6/3/0 for the new graveyard, which must have been for the gates to protect from bodysnatchers. This was Paty’s first work for Christ Church; in fact it may be the first he did in the city.

But this yard soon filled, so the old churchyard was reopened, with the earth and graves piling up even higher. The mason William Daniel asked for a report on “whether it is possible to lower the same or not”  and on his advice, the Bishop granted a licence to remove earth, mold and of course bodies and stones to the Duck Lane yard, an action described as a “laudable an undertaking”, though there was no suggestion as to how space could be decently found there either.

An invoice from Richard Rogers in 1764 was for “taking up the boans out of the skull house and putting into the Vault” for which he charged 4 shillings.
Contracts were issued the following year to “dig and carry away the earth”  Submissions from contractors suggest they were barely literate.

There is another invoice which is a gem in its own right, and which helps to explain how the amazing Mr Viner sorted out the conundrum of what to do with the contents of the churchyard.

The note is titled, “To Diging a Hole in St Philips Church Yard to Bury the Bones and Leveling the Dirt.” On 5 November, 3 men were given 9/2d each for 5 days digging, so it must have been quite a hole. Then 12 men spent 2 nights taking the bones and burying them, so it seems lessons were learnt from the outcry against public exhumations at St Mary Redcliffe and probably in this parish also. Thirteen loads of bones were hauled away, the 6 loads of coffin boards. Four new baskets were bought to carry the bones in, the more removals.

The problems with the overflowing graveyard also tells us much of the state of those living in the inner city at the time. The medieval graveyard had for centuries been sufficient for the parish population. But from the 1750s we see the graveyard filling every 20 years, indicating not just a massive increase in population, but also of deaths in the parish. One observer noted how the poor living in the Pithay up against the wall of the churchyard lived within feet of their decaying relatives and drank water from nearby wells which must have been contaminated by the dead. As well as mourning the recently departed, they lived in constant fear of them.

 

 

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