Anyone who knows the Brits knows at least these two things.

1. No one does ceremony as well or for as many events as them.

2. No one assigns specific places to specific events as well as they do.

What else might account for the existence of specific routes known as corpse roads recorded from as early as the medieval era? In fact, some research indicates they might well have been assigned and traveled from a time as far past as the Neolithic period. But more about that later.

These paths were known by a variety of names and whilst many are lost and long forgotten, some are still apparent and even marked by signs. Their names included:

Corpse road                                     Burial road

Coffin road                                       Lyke road or way

Bier road                                           Funeral way

Lych road or way                             Church way

NOTE: Lych is the Old English word for corpse.

Now that we have the “what” out of the way, let us discuss the “why.”

Up until the late 16th to early 17th centuries the larger mother churches in England reserved the right to conduct burials for themselves. And for a very good reason. Burials brought in money to the church’s coffers. As a result, many people who died in rural villages or any distance from a mother church had to be conveyed to these churches for a proper burial. Most of these people were poor. Many did not own a horse or a cart, and if they did, these equipages could not be spared for the long trip to one of these churches. They had work to do at home.

Therefore, more often than not, the dead person had to be carried by men from home or from their home village great distances on foot to be afforded the aforementioned proper burial. Generally the party consisted of eight men who worked in teams of four in a procession that might consist of simply those eight men or might include those members of the family and even friends who could afford to take the time to attend. However, most of the time, the body was conveyed separately over the corpse road whilst the mourners traveled a more direct route.

It is important to remember that quite a few people during these eras could not afford a coffin. Many villages and most mother churches had a coffin that was used to convey a body from home to the church. It would then be left at the church for the next person to use. This multi-use casket could be made of wood or could be made of wicker, a large human-sized wicker basket with two handles on each side. In these cases, bodies were buried in shrouds.

A few logistics when it comes to corpse roads…

Corpse roads could be as short as five or six miles and as long as ten to sixteen miles. The corpse road from Keld to Grinton in Yorkshire, known as the Swaledale Corpse Way is every bit of sixteen miles.

Swaledale Corpse Way – North Yorkshire

Corpse roads were not a strictly British tradition. There were and are corpse roads all over Europe. Most of these, however, are lost to history. As late as the 19th century Ordinance Survey maps in Britain still documented 42 of these funerary ways.

Corpse road in Huntingstile, Grasmere, Cumbria


The directions and locations of corpse roads were determined by a few factors. Some of these factors were practical. Some, frankly, were deeply seated in tradition and superstition.


1. The corpse roads tended to go immediately away from the village. No one wanted a corpse carried by their front door.

2. There was a bit of folklore about corpse roads that declared any road by which a corpse traveled became a public right of way. There is no legal evidence to support this, but even 19th century landowners still posted signs that forbade any funeral processions from crossing their property. This meant large swaths of land were removed from the possible route of a corpse road.

3. There were two schools of thought on the actual path of a corpse road. Some parts of Britain held the belief that spirits of the dead could only travel in a straight line. Therefore routes were planned in a straight line from a particular village to the mother church in order to ensure the spirit traveled with the corpse all the way to the burial ground. They didn’t want him hanging about in fields or worse in taverns along the way because he got lost and couldn’t find his way to his own funeral.

There was also a theory that a coffin sterilized the land along the way it was carried because the dead were forced to walk that path until their soul was purged. Those who believed this made certain the corpse road was a straight route which meant the way passed over whatever terrain was in the way in order to achieve that straight line.

The other school of thought was that since spirits could only travel in a straight line, the corpse road needs must be a meandering path to ensure the spirit did not find its way back home. This accounts for some of the wandering, twisting turning aspects of some corpse roads. As much as one might love the dearly departed, one certainly did not want him showing up at the supper table two weeks after the funeral.

The tradition of the straight line is rooted in those ancient burial routes mentioned at the beginning of this post. Neolithic earthen avenues called cursuses linked burial mounds. In fact,  these routes ran for miles, and as seen especially from the air are straight, or straight in segments, connecting funerary sites. There is even one just outside Stonehenge.

Neolithic cursus to Stonehenge






4. In aid of keeping that straight line route, corpse roads passed over every sort of terrain imaginable with little to no thought as to the effort it might take to haul a corpse over said terrain. A section of the Pennine Way follows the historic corpse road from Garrigill to Kirkland over Alston Moor and over Cross Fell, a height of 893 meters. In the 16th century, one funeral party, overcome by a snowstorm, reputedly abandoned the coffin on the fell for a fortnight.

Cross Fell Corpse Road

5. All corpse roads were set to cross water at some point in the journey. Whether it be a stream, a brook, or a river the path had to take the party carrying the corpse over water. Why? Because spirits supposedly could not cross over water. Once the body crossed water there was no way a spirit could find his or her way back home.

6. Routes often were extended in order to avoid passing over farmers’ fields. This was due to the belief that should a corpse pass across a farmer’s field that field would be soured and never again produce good crops. Anyone traveling in the UK today will often see an unploughed strip of land along the edge of fields wide enough for two men to walk abreast. These strips were left deliberately so that the corpse road could travel along the fields without crossing and souring the land.


As one can perhaps imagine, there are a great many superstitions associated with corpse roads. Some had explanations. Some defied explanation, but they were held steadfastly by those who were raised to believe them. Which accounts for some of the odd quirks associated with traveling and reaching one’s final destination on a corpse road.

1. Throughout the route, the corpse is carried feet first to the graveyard. In other words the body must be carried with the feet pointed away from the departed’s home. Why? To prevent him from finding his or her way home.

2. The coffin was never to be placed on the ground for the coffin-bearers to rest. Why? Apparently there was a chance if the coffin touched the earth the spirit of the departed might wander off. Therefore, flat stones, known as coffin rests or corpse crosses, were established along the corpse road so the bearers might place the coffin there and rest before continuing on their way. This was often where the team of bearers would switch out so as not to tire themselves along the way.

These coffin stones were usually found in lonely places away from any houses or villages. Many had their own legends attached to them. The one found on the corpse road between Keld and Muker in Yorkshire lies on Kisdon Fell just over Ivelet Bridge. It is said to be haunted by the ghost of a headless black dog. No explanation. Just a headless black dog hanging about the coffin rest.

Coffin Rest Grasmere
Lamplugh Coffin Rest

As you can see, the coffin rest came in a variety of styles, but they all served the same purposes – to give the bearers a rest and to keep the departed from wandering off on the way to his or her funeral.



3. The corpse candle is another tradition associated with the corpse road, especially in Wales, the land of my ancestors. This was a mysterious light that supposedly was seen traveling a corpse road the night before a death. The light would be seen traveling from the churchyard to the front door of the person destined to die and then back to the churchyard. This was the spirit of the soon to be departed tracing the route they were about to take.

The light would travel close to the ground and disappear into the ground where the burial was to take place. Some said the lights were the spirits of the dead trying to lead travelers astray. Other legends declared them to be the spirits of unbaptized or stillborn babies caught between heaven and hell.

4. Crossroads were considered the most dangerous part of a corpse road. According to superstition, crossroads were where the veil between this world and the next and this world and the underworld was at its thinnest. It was believed the devil could appear at a crossroads. Crosses were placed at these intersections (hence the name) to protect travelers from the devil and any wayward spirits who were lost on their way to the graveyard. Other talismans called witch balls were also hung at crossroads. A witch ball consisted of a bottle or enclosed glass vessel which contained threads and charms. The threads were there specifically to ensnare passing spirits thus trapping any evil or negative energy and keeping the way safe for the living.

The final stop

Once the bearers reached the mother church there was one last tradition that marked the end of the corpse road. The bearers would take their burden to a specific door or gate at the church and wait for the clergy to come and assume responsibility for the body. Members of the clergy and their staff would be in charge of making final preparations to the body for burial. Here was also where the community coffin would be left for the next person in need of it.

These doors were often called leper doors and the gate was called the lych gate. (Remember, lych was the Old English word for corpse.) Again these gates might be very simple or quite elaborate. My first encounter with a lych gate was in the village of Kelsale in Suffolk where I lived for three years as a child.

Lychgate Church of St. Peter and St. Mary Kelsale, Suffolk, England

For more about lych gates check out our earlier post on the subject.

Corpse Roads Today

As stated at the beginning of this post, many of these corpse roads are still known and visible today. In fact, hikers include these pathways on their lists of places to hike throughout the UK. There are, in fact, road signs that will direct hikers to these roads when possible. Some of the most popular are:

Ambleside to Grasmere, Cumbria

Black Mountain, Carmarthenshire

Lych Way, Devon

Coffin Route, Outer Hebrides

Buttermere Corpse Road, Cumbria

Kintail, Highland

Garrigill to Cross Fell, Cumbria

Swaledale Corpse Way, North Yorkshire

The obligatory ghost story

Of course there are ghost stories aplenty associated with nearly every corpse road in England. Along the Elksdale Corpse Road there is the story of the family who made the mistake of carrying their departed son on horseback to the mother church. Crossing Burnmoor the mist was thick and eerie. Something spooked the horse which took off with the coffin and body strapped on his back. The party searched and searched but found neither the horse nor the son.

The news of what had happened to her son’s corpse so devastated his mother that she collapsed and died. Low and behold, the funeral party had not learned their lesson. The horse on which they conveyed her body took fright and bolted as well. In their search for her they found the son’s horse, alive, body and coffin still strapped to his back. However, no matter how far and wide they looked they never found the mother or her horse.

To this day there are reports of a ghostly horse with a coffin strapped to its back appearing out of nowhere to frighten the wits out of anyone foolish enough to follow the Elksdale Corpse Road.

Some advice? Don’t hike the corpse roads at night. Even the locals won’t do that. Just in case.

Yorkshire Moors

Now it is that time of night, that the graves all gaping wide, every one lets forth his sprite, in the church-way paths to glide.”

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

William Shakespeare



Is It Haunted? Of Course It Is – It’s England!

Generally, in England Halloween is not the celebrated holiday it is here in the United States. Of course, as happens all too frequently, it has crept Across the Pond and become more Americanized, but until recently there was simply no need to celebrate things that go bump in the night on one night of the year. Why? Because frankly when it comes to things that go bump in the night, Halloween is rather redundant in the UK. The entire island is a celebration of all things ghostly, ghoulish, and people who simply refuse to go into the light. One can hardly throw a rock without passing through the ghost of a Grey Lady, a White Lady, a Howling Banshee, or a Spectral Monk. However, even with all of this paranormal mayhem, there are certain rules which pertain to whom or what is more likely to be creeping about Mother England long after they might have gone on to the great tea room or pub in the sky.

Thus, we give you…


1. If one is any of Henry VIII’s six wives and one has been born in, died in, grew up in, lived in, slept in, visited, been executed in or near, or even driven or ridden by a building one must haunt said building. Choice of dress color is optional—grey or white is preferred.

Haunted Gallery – Hampton Court Palace. Katherine Howard is said to have escaped her guards and run down this gallery to catch Henry VIII in the chapel and beg for his mercy. Her ghost is said to repeat this last path over and over again.


Amberley Castle. A servant girl named Emily was supposedly impregnated by a bishop and tossed aside. She, therefore, tossed herself off one of the towers to her death. She is sometimes seen roaming the halls. More often seen repeating her leap from the tower.

2. If one is a servant in a particular house and one dies of either lingering disease or preferably some sort of gruesome death over unrequited love, being unjustly accused of theft, or the master (or his son) has got you in a delicate condition one must haunt said house—hanging oneself over and over again is good. Throwing oneself off a tower only to disappear is better. If it is accompanied by a great deal of weeping and moaning it is better still.



3. If one is a highwayman or other notorious outlaw and one has died at the hands of either the hangman or the militia in a desperate chase and shootout one is condemned to haunt either the place of execution or, even better, one is condemned to ride up and down the stretch of road one frequented or upon which one finally met one’s end. One’s horse is apparently condemned as well. Shouting “Stand and Deliver!” is optional.

Dartford Heath – Said to be haunted by Dick Turpin and other highwaymen who can be heard riding through the mist of an evening.


4. If one met one’s end in a pub or tavern, especially in some sort of tavern brawl or affair of honor, one must stop by said pub periodically. Not for a pint, but to scare the bejeesus out of the current patrons. If one is a tavern maid who was murdered in said establishment, committed suicide in said establishment, got lost on the way home from said establishment, or went walking out with the wrong patron from said establishment then one is condemned to hang around and give the place character as well. One is not allowed to drink whilst haunting, which seems a bit unfair, but those are the rules.

The Ostrich in Colnbrook Photograph taken 1905 © Crown Copyright.EH ref: OP14241
Over 900 years as a coaching inn and pub. Some 60 or more murders are attributed to a 17th century innkeeper and his wife. Is there any way The Ostrich isn’t haunted?


5. If one fought (and died, of course) on any of the numerous battlefields in the UK there is always the chance one might be condemned to haunt said battlefield. Loss of limb, or especially loss of one’s head is a certain bet one will be required to hang around said battlefield for eternity looking for one’s missing parts. Sending one’s horse to gallop about unseen in the mist is a possible out. Rattling one’s saber, firing cannons, and shouting “Charge!” are a safe bet.

The Battlefield at Culloden is said to be haunted by soldiers who died in battle there in 1746. It is said one can hear the sounds of pipes and drums and shouted battle cries at sunset.

6. If one was a monk or nun and died in the area of a monastery or abbey, the more gruesome one’s death the more likely one must haunt said monastery or abbey. Murdered by a king or at a king’s behest is guaranteed employment as a ghost for eternity. Especially if one’s death was particularly bloody and took place in said monastery or abbey. However, it is possible, if one was a monk or nun one is simply choosing to haunt said monastery or abbey. Apparently, monks and nuns have a great deal of trouble moving on.

Whitby Abbey – site of a spectral monk and inspiration for one of the locations in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

7. If one is the lady of the house, especially a castle or a stately home—the older the better, and one meets an unfortunate end, one might be required to haunt said castle or house. Murdered by a wicked husband, becoming ill after suffering a jilting or loss in love, being stood up at the altar and falling into a fatal decline, committing suicide by leaping from the tower, parapet or a particularly high window—any and all of these will do. Grey or white are the dress colors preferred, although red will do in a pinch. Oh, and if one had a dog of which one was particularly fond, said dog might be condemned to walk the parapets with one. On rare occasion said ghost dog might be heard howling in despair on the anniversary of his mistress’s death.

Samlesbury Hall – Haunted by the White Lady, Dorothy Southworth, whose Catholic family killed her Protestant lover the night they were to meet and elope. She is said to haunt the hall in search of her lover.

8. Moors in England are required, I do believe it is by law, to have at least one creature (known origins optional) to haunt said moor and frighten anyone unfortunate enough to venture out onto said moor, especially in the evening or at night. A moor might be haunted by a hound of unusual size and ferocity, a pack of hunting dogs lost by a careless master, a fiery horse (rider optional) lost in the bogs of the moor, Celtish or Roman warriors trapped in the bogs over the centuries, a howling creature of unknown origins or anyone ever lost or body-dumped on the moors by a savvy, but cold-hearted killer.

Dartmoor – The Moor – Home to Baskerville Hounds, witches burned or hanged or drowned and even a few Roman soldiers who never made it home.


9. Should one be a member of the royal family on one’s death, one is very nearly required to haunt various royal residences. This is especially true if one has suffered a horrible death or one has suffered the loss by terrible or premature death of one’s child or spouse. Should one be a royal murdered by yet another royal for reasons of royal coup or simply a family feud got out of hand, one is far more likely to be compelled to haunt. Crowns, and sometimes even heads, are optional. Oh, and if one is numbered amongst those bad kings or queens, one is simply doomed to haunt, just saying. Apparently dead royals are nearly as bad as monks and nuns about moving on.

Tower of London – White Chapel – The bodies of the Two Princes murdered by their Uncle Richard to obtain the crown were reportedly found here. The Princes are said to haunt the Tower, especially the chapel.

10. Dying at Number 50 Berkeley Square apparently guarantees one a spot on the haunting roster. Whether one’s death was horrible, frightening, or merely sad one has no choice but to linger around for eternity and wait one’s turn to disturb the peace of the house. There are so many spirits at this address there must be a ghostly social secretary to keep everyone in order. However, one is guaranteed a deal of privacy as hauntings are only allowed on the fourth floor and, apparently, the police, in typical British fashion have posted a sign in the house forbidding anyone to climb to the fourth floor.

“You say the rooms are haunted? Well, don’t go into those rooms!”

Number 50 is considered the most haunted house in London, but according to those who work at antiquarian booksellers Maggs Bros. Ltd., housed at this address for many years, nothing untoward has ever happened. Then again, they never venture onto the fourth floor. Ever. Would you?

Check out for more information and great research on No. 50 Berkeley Square and other haunted places in Britain.

There you have it, a few rules for haunting in the UK. Even with the rules, those of us who love England might not find it too terrible a task to spend eternity there. Some of us would spend our years left with the living haunting England, if funds and time would allow!


The Things You Learn When Researching an Erotic Regency Romance Series

Not that! Get your mind out of the gutter!

Louisa Cornell

The game of chess was created in India during the Gupta dynasty in the 6th century. By the 10th century it had spread from Asia to the Middle East and Europe. Two incidents in 13th-century London, in which men of Essex resorted to violence resulting in death as an outcome of playing chess, caused alarm among government and Church officials. The Church came out against the game, but that did not stop chess from being played. The practice of playing chess for money became so widespread during the 13th century that Louis IX of France issued an ordinance against gambling in 1254. This ordinance turned out to be unenforceable and was ignored by commoners and courtly society alike, which continued to enjoy prohibited chess tournaments uninterrupted.

Early 19th century Chess Set


Napoleon played chess as a young man and throughout his life was believed to have used chess strategies in fighting the Peninsular Wars.

The second half of the 18th century saw the game of chess become increasingly popular in England. Coffee houses offered rooms as locations for chess lessons with famous players.

François-André Danican Philidor (1726 – 1795), a musician and composer by profession, was considered perhaps the top chess player in France. Fortunately for the growing chess popularity in Britain, he visited London several times from 1747–1754, in the 1770s, and finally even lived there after he fled from the French Revolution. In London, he tested his skills against the strongest British chess player, Sir Abraham Janssen, in 1747. They played at the Old Slaughter’s Coffee House, and Philidor won. This was the beginning of Philidor’s career as the most beloved chess master of Georgian England. In 1749 his Analysis of Chess was published in London, the first chess book to explain the openings, the middle game, and the general strategy of chess. In the 1770s, Philidor played chess and offered lessons at the Salopian Coffee House at Charing Cross and at Parsloe’s Coffee House in St. James Street.

In 1774, Philidor encouraged chess players to form the Chess Club at Parsloe’s. The club was exclusive and highly fashionable. Membership was limited to 100 players of rank, influence, and chess skills. Charles James Fox, the Marquis of Rockingham, Count Bruehl, Lord Harrowby, and General John Burgoyne were some of the first members. The club members convinced Philidor to be their teacher, and he obtained remuneration as a chess master every year for a regular season from February to June. Chess lessons at the club with Philidor cost 5 shillings (60 cents) each. Needless to say, ladies were not allowed.

The Chess Club at Parsloe’s became the heart of British chess and it attracted customers with spectacular events. Every year, Philidor amazed audiences by playing three blindfold chess games simultaneously. A report of one such event was published in The Morning Post:

“The celebrated Mr. Philidor, whose unrivalled excellence at the game of Chess has long been distinguished, invited the members of the Chess-club, and the amateurs in general of that arduous amusement, to be present on Saturday last at a spectacle of the most curious kind, as it was to display a very wonderful faculty of the human mind, which faculty, however, is perhaps exclusively at present his own. “

(The Morning Post, 28 May 1782)

Philidor’s death in 1792 was a heavy blow for the club which gradually declined in importance afterwards.

At the turn of the 19th century, the upper-middle class embraced chess. Verdoni, Philidor’s successor as London’s chess master, passed on his knowledge to several men of the newly emerging middle class that became crucial for the further development of chess in Britain.

One of these men was Jacob Henry Sarratt (born in France in 1772), originally a schoolmaster. In 1804 Sarratt was considered London’s strongest player, and he became the house professional at the Salopian at Charing Cross. Sarratt called himself Professor of Chess and taught chess at the price of a guinea per game.

On April 6, 1807, the London Chess club was formed at Tom’s Coffee House in Cornhill; Sarratt was one of its most active members. The club was mainly frequented by merchants and members of the Stock Exchange. Membership dues were 3 guineas per year, and one guinea per entrance.

On July 9, 1813, the Liverpool Mercury published the first newspaper chess column.
Additionally, the number of publications on chess rose. The emphasis was on practical learning:

1816 – An Easy Introduction to the Game of Chess: containing 100 examples of games and a Great Variety of Critical Situations and Conclusions

1817Oriental Chess by William Lewis (1787-1870) The first chess problems book printed in England

1817 – John Cazenove, the president of the London Chess Club, published “A selection of curious and entertaining games at chess: that have been actually played”

What about the ladies?

Ladies would play at home or at gatherings with neighbors or friends. A number of paintings from the era depict ladies doing just that. However, chess clubs did not admit women until the late 19th century.

The Winter’s Day Delineated by Maria Cosway (1759-1838)

There is an informative post on the advent of women in chess at the link below.

Were there women chess masters during the Regency era? Very likely so. The possibility is the premise for BOOK FOUR in the Regency erotic romance series – Sex, Lies, and Forbidden Desires. Read on to learn more!


The loss of Col’s damning journal pages is about to turn deadly;
The forfeit of Charlotte’s closely guarded secrets might destroy her;
Will their mutual quest for justice bring them together, or tear them apart?

By night, she’s a masked chess mistress who challenges and trounces all takers; by day, she’s the ethereal white-blonde beauty who volunteers at the children’s refuge in Seven Dials — Charlotte Smythe lives a luxurious double life of ease as the mysterious chess genius at Goodrum’s House of Pleasure..

After spending years as a gifted investigator extricating others from their peccadillos, dedicated Bow Street runner Archer Colwyn has landed in a suds of his own making. The light-hearted journal of sensual exploits he and his school chums kept while students at Cambridge has gone missing, and the secrets within his particular pages, if revealed, could set off deadly consequences.

The dangerous Captain El Goodrum, proprietress of the most infamous house of pleasure in London, holds the key to their retrieval. In exchange for her cooperation, she demands he run a gauntlet of secrets to deliver a master criminal to justice. His only path to the damning pages is the inscrutable chess mistress who not only resents his attempts to romance away his journal pages, but seems to relish his dread and panic at the prospect of the pages becoming public knowledge.

Charlotte craves the kind of refuge she provides to the orphans she rescues from London’s stews. The respite she seeks away from the world in her St. John’s Wood villa with her two house companions is all that keeps her sane, but sometimes, late at night, she needs something more, something even she cannot name.





Louisa Cornell

This post is a continuation of the previous post on body disposal in Regency England, For perspective one might want to read through Part One of this series again.

Burial Disposal

Murderers likely buried their victims during the Regency for some of the same reasons murderers bury their victims today. Some did so out of a need to always know where the body was. Some did so out of expediency. It might have been the quickest method to hand at the time. Some did so in order to prevent a body from ever being found. During the Regency there were advantages to burial, especially for those who lived in rural areas. Most people were buried in cemeteries during the Regency. However, it was not uncommon for bodies to be buried on family farms or estates. Poor families buried their dead where they could. A body discovered and dug up in a wooded area, a field or other lonely place might simply be reburied unless the person discovering it thought the body was there as a result of murder.

The degree to which burial destroyed evidence varied. England’s colder weather tended to preserve bodies in the ground save for in the summer months. A laborer, or one who did a great deal of manual labor, was more likely to choose burial as digging was an activity with which they were familiar and at which they were good. Bodies were buried in a variety of spots in the cities. A cemetery that contained open mass graves was the perfect place to dispose of a murder victim so long as those who worked in association with these graves didn’t check too carefully. As horrible as it may sound bodies were found buried beneath the floors of houses and businesses. They were buried in cellars as well. One must remember, especially in cities where people lived in close proximity the smell of a decaying body simply added to the regular stench.

Some things to remember about burying a murder victim during the Regency:

(1) There were no cadaver dogs during the Regency. However, one would be foolish to assume dogs could not find a body. As early as the 16th century dogs were used to track fugitives, enemies, and even runaway wives.

(2) Lime was used in cemeteries in mass graves to speed the decomposition process and to hide the odor. Some murderers in Regency England used lime for pretty much the same reason. However, there were no guarantees and lime took time to get the job done.

(3) Burial did destroy some evidence, but not all. And there were men who could examine the soil from a burial site and match it to the clothes and shoes worn by the murderer.

(4) Burial at a crossroads was less likely to attract attention to the grave. Suicides were not allowed to be buried in cemeteries until the Burial of Suicides Act of 1823.

(5) There were other chemicals available to murderers to aid in the destruction of a body. These were usually used by more educated murderers with the knowledge and the access, although people in trades where lye and other such chemicals were used also had access and understanding. Most of the time these chemicals were used in conjunction with burial as few people had somewhere to store a body long enough for it to be destroyed by chemicals.


A few case studies of burial of a body during the Regency era


1827 — In 1827 in Polstead, Suffolk Maria Martin was supposed to meet William Corder at a local landmark, the Red Barn, so the two might run off to Ipswich be married. Her family became concerned even after they received letters from her saying all was well. A year later, Maria’s stepmother finally persuaded local authorities that the dreams she’d been having of Maria’s murder had to be true. She’d dreamed off and on all year that Corder had murdered Maria and buried her in the Red Barn. Authorities dug up the floor of the barn and found Maria’s body, identified by some of the clothes she’d last been seen wearing. She’d been shot and buried so deeply no on suspected until her stepmother’s persistence paid off. Corder was tracked down in London, where he had actually married, and returned to Bury St. Edmunds for trial. Unfortunately, he’d kept the red neckerchief Maria was wearing when she went off to meet him. He’d removed it from her dead body before he’d buried her. He was tried and hanged in Bury St. Edmunds in 1828. If one goes to all the trouble of burying a victim one might want to bury all of the victim’s clothing with them.


1849 — This particular burial was part of a case sensationalized by the press and the murder ballad writers as The Bermondsey Horror. On 17 August, 1849 two men investigating a missing person, one Patrick O’Connor, went into the home of the missing man’s friends, Frederick and Maria Manning, where O’Connor was supposed to have had dinner on the last night he was seen alive. The couple were not at home, but in inspecting the premises, the investigators noticed a damp spot in the kitchen floor where it appeared flagstones and mortar had recently been replaced. They pulled up the flagstones, dug up the dirt beneath them, and came upon a man’s toe. Once they uncovered the entire body they discovered a middle-aged man, naked, face down, with his legs drawn up behind him and tied with a piece of clothesline. There was also a bloody dress in the grave. Lime had been tossed in over the body, and the face was partially decomposed, but they were able to identify the man by his false teeth. These investigators had learned a bit about investigating a murder as they left the body there and secured the scene. They searched the house and removed items that belonged to the victim. The next day the body was removed from the grave, washed, and the post-mortem was performed on the kitchen table. The victim had been shot and beaten about the head. The Mannings were tracked down, tried, and hanged together. (We will be looking at this case again in other lessons.) Burial of one’s victim in one’s own home can work, but not if one’s home was the last place the victim is rumored to have visited. And leaving one’s own clothing and the victim’s identifiable false teeth in the grave is likely not a good idea either.

Check Back for Part Three of this series soon !


So you’ve committed a murder in Regency England. Now what? You could just leave the body there and run. But if you really want a chance at escaping the hangman’s noose you might want to dispose of the body. Let’s look at some possibilities.



Louisa Cornell


Body disposal during the Regency era was just as varied and contained just as many problems for both the murderer and the person dedicated to solving the murder as it does today. The advantage for the person set to solve the murder during the Regency was the lack of a constant stream of television shows instructing a murderer on how to dispose of a body. The majority of murder victims during the Regency were found where the murder actually occurred with no attempt made to hide or otherwise manipulate the body to get rid of evidence. That does not mean, however, that some murderers during this era did not come up with some rather unique ways to dispose of a body.

Some things to know about Regency Era crime investigation

(1) Once a murder victim was discovered, no matter where the body might be, there was a good chance the body would be moved, covered, or otherwise tampered with before law enforcement and / or the coroner arrived. Wounds might be bound. Clothing might even be removed.

(2) Should the body be found at a place of business, there was little to no chance the business would close until the body was removed. Business was business and the added cache of a murder victim lying about brought in more customers. Regency era people were above all realists.

(3) Depending on where the body was found and how long it took for the coroner to arrive with instructions, the location might become a tourist attraction with some enterprising soul selling tickets to view the body. As a result, items could be stolen or sold from the body before anyone had the chance to collect them as evidence. And the crime scene would be destroyed as well. Yes, especially in large cities like London or Edinburgh this could happen in a matter of minutes.

(4) Should a body be found other than in the victim’s home there is the possibility the body might be carried home by friends and family. Often this meant the body was stripped, bathed, bound and redressed before the coroner and law enforcement arrived. This did not happen often, but it did happen. This was more likely to happen in rural locations.

(5) Often a body that was hidden in some way made things easier for the coroner and law enforcement. A body that was hidden was last touched by the murderer, not a cast of thousands.

(6) However hidden bodies presented an investigator with its own problems. There were no tests to ascertain time of death. Wounds were often obliterated by the process of disposal and decomposition. Identification was more difficult, but not impossible, although there were no such things as dental records per se.

Water Disposal

Water disposal of murder victims was quite common during the Regency era. In the modern age water disposal is used to destroy evidence and in the hope the body might never resurface. In the Regency era, the idea of water destroying evidence didn’t really come into play in the average murder. However, it would be foolish to assume there were not murderers smart enough to know that water might help.

The Thames was notorious for the number of bodies that showed up floating in its waters. Riverside and dockside murder victims were often discovered in the Thames. Unwanted babies often ended in the Thames as well. Most of these murder victims came under the jurisdiction of the Thames River Police (established 1798.) Their normal duties involved stopping thievery from ships and in the transfer of goods from ships to the docks. They covered a large area, and if a body was found in the river and it was closer to their offices and jurisdiction they would investigate. More about them when we discuss who investigates a murder.

Bodies were also disposed of in rivers outside of London, as well as lakes and ponds as well. If a body was found in a body of water, the investigator would be safe to assume the murder had taken place either in the body of water or nearby. Transporting a body a long distance away in order to dispose of it was not an easy thing to do. Whether by horse or some sort of carriage or cart, the idea of spending time with the body of someone one had killed held little appeal for a variety of reasons—superstitions, in most communities a stranger would be noticed, worse in most communities everyone knew everyone, unless a person knew to weigh a body down there was no guarantee the body would sink before the murderer risked being caught nearby.

Bodies might also be disposed of in a well or cistern. Of course, if the well or cistern were one in use by a family, a community, or a business a body would foul the water and might be discovered all the more quickly. Good for the investigator. Bad for the murderer. No fun for the people who used the well for water either.

Some things unique to water disposal during the Regency Era

(1) A murder victim pulled from a body of water might be considered a victim of accidental drowning. Even with obvious wounds, depending on the body of water, the coroner and coroner’s jury might decide a murder is simply a drowning.

(2) This would be more likely in a rural setting than in a larger city. By the Regency era most of the physicians who practiced in the cities and / or kept up with the latest medical treatises knew how to ascertain if a victim was dead before they went into the water. Even in a rural setting where there was a competent physician families might object to the test to discover if their loved one had drowned as it involved dissecting the body at least enough to remove the lungs and float them in water. If they floated the person was dead when they went into the water and likely ended up in the water after they were murdered. If they sank, they were full of water which indicated a person was alive when they went into the water. Then the coroner and coroner’s jury had only to decide if the drowning was an accident or murder.

(3) Water disposal could erase a great deal of evidence from a body. However, the method of putting the body into the water might provide evidence of its own. People seldom considered that weighing a body down with items from their home, their farm, or a location associated with them might lead the authorities back to them.

(4) Any detritus associated with a specific body of water found on a suspect’s person or in a suspect’s home might lead the authorities back to them.

(5) Very few anatomists were able to distinguish between possible murder wounds and wounds brought about by the predation of aquatic animals.

(6) Unless a body was found in clothes or wore items of jewelry that could be identified by friends and / or family some murder victims found in water might never be positively identified.

(7) The longer a body stayed in the water the more difficult it was to determine time of death, cause of death, and identity. During the Regency era this level of decomposition was of a much shorter time than today.

An interesting method of discovering a body in the water.

An ancient method for finding a body in the water, which was still in use well into the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was the use of quicksilver or mercury as we know it today. The quicksilver was inserted into a loaf of bread and floated as nearly as possible to where the body was supposed to have gone into the water. According to the superstition, the body would rise to meet the quicksilver. There is no scientific evidence to back this theory up. However, there are written records of the method being used.

The Gentleman’s Magazine, for April of 1767 contains a story about a search for the body of a child undertaken at Newbury in Berkshire where the one-year-old had fallen into the river Kennet and was drowned. The account states how the body was discovered by a very singular experiment—a two-penny loaf, with a quantity of quicksilver was put into the river and was set floating from the place where the child, it was supposed, had fallen. The loaf steered its course down the river before a great number of spectators. The loaf suddenly tacked about, and swam across the river, and gradually sank near the child, whereupon both the child and loaf were immediately brought up, with chained hooks ready for that purpose.