Saturday, 17 August 2013


The stealing of bodies from graveyards was a prevalent crime in the 19th century, and it was very difficult to apprehend these ‘body snatchers’  unless they were caught red-handed. Their aim was to sell the bodies for anatomical purposes. To combat this crime, watch towers were built in many graveyards where those keeping watch for body snatcher's could shelter and still be vigilant.   An interesting example of such a watch tower  can be seen in the churchyard at Eckford,  in the Scottish Borders.  It even contains a small fire place to keep the incumbents nice and cosy.


A related story tells of a local man, one James Goodfellow, who was walking home late, the day after a burial, when he saw a dim light in the churchyard. He saw a pony and cart secreted nearby and sent it galloping off, forcing two miscreants to leave their grisly task and rush after it. In the graveyard he found an open coffin and just had time to hide the body behind a nearby gravestone and install himself in the coffin, covering himself with the pall, before the two  body snatchers returned and lifted the coffin on to the cart and drove towards Kelso. After a short distance one of them leaned against the ‘body’ and cried “Jock, this body’s warm” whereupon James sat up and said, “If you had been where I have been, you would be warm” and the thieves fled. There was apparently no claim for the impounded horse and cart.

Examples of ‘mortsafes’ can be seen in the churchyard at Logierait in Perthshire . They were used to protect graves and to prevent the stealing of corpses to sell as anatomical specimens.





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