Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Warden Churchyard, Northumberland

Almost all church yards are dense with history, and in the UK you find some really remarkable examples.

Up in Northumberland, near Corbridge we made a brief stop at a place called Warden Churchyard.

The church proper is very old, with the squared off, military look to its tower leading some to speculate that the Saxon architect of this place might have used a still extant Hadrian's Wall turret as his inspiration.

You find all different layers of history.

Here, next to the door of the church we find what is felt to be a very worn down former Roman altar. It has a later carving of The Green Man on it.  Green Man was an odd hold over of pagan fertility cultism that the Church just looked at and shrugged.

I did read one source that fancifully claimed that the break in the middle was to "release" any pagan influences before the stone was allowed onto hallowed ground.  This is somewhat unlikely, stones have a tendency to break on their own.

Here's something you don't see every day....

A series of graves with iron cages on top.  No, not a concern about the Dead Rising Up as zombies. But something slightly unpleasant.

This is probably a "Mortsafe".  For a long time there was a stigma against dissecting dead bodies for medical education.  In medieval times it was opposed by the Church and even into the modern era it was not regarded favorably.  Medical students who wished to study anatomy would sometimes turn to "Resurrection Men".  For a fee these guys would go out under dark of night and dig up a nice fresh corpse for you.  The practice was wide spread, both in the UK and elsewhere.  It was especially prevalent and reviled in Scotland, where beliefs in the resurrection of the body after death were quite strong.

As a result measures designed to stop grave robbing were the most elaborate in the immediate vicinity of Scottish medical schools.  My examples from above are "over the border" in England but not by that much.

I actually question whether the intent here was preventing grave robbing.  Warden Churchyard is a long ways from any plausible market for a dead body, and the shelf life would be, er, limited.  Also, grave robbing was much reduced after the passage of the Anatomy Act of 1832 made access to unclaimed bodies much easier for students of medicine.  The death dates on these stones are all much later.  I can see an 1862 clearly and there was another that seemed to be from 1891.  Perhaps this was a mortician selling out old stock.  Or maybe somebody just indulging a rather macabre whim.

Our last stop today is a sad one.  Have a look.

An especially fine military monument in a country that lost so many of her best and bravest.

Now take a closer look.

Poor Private Thomas Harrison.  He died on the last day of World War One.  Literally on the 11th day of the 11th month.  For all we know it might have been on the 11th hour, the exact moment that the guns fell silent.

His name is relatively common, so I have not been able to find out much about him.  The designation
N.F. stands for Northumberland Fusiliers.  This was a long established Regular Army regiment that during the course of the Great War expanded into a bewildering 51 battalions and fought from the beginning to the bitter, bitter end.

I am not sure why Private Harrison died in Cardiff, Wales.  A reasonable guess might be that he died of wounds while in hospital.  The 3rd Western General Hospital there was a rather large establishment.

1 comment:

Jeffrey Smith said...

Not really on topic, but not offtopic either....