Tag Archives: burial

Things Under the Floorboards — Warning– Sensitive Matter

Things Under the Floorboards — Warning– Sensitive Matter

Every building carries history within its walls, ceilings, floors and foundations. “The practice of burying or concealing items in the structure of a house a window frame, a player-piano roll in a ceiling,  or a granite name under the floorboards. Or concealed shoes in your walls or chimneys- What’s in Your Walls? A Concealed Shoe?

In 1842 London was the modern mega city of the world. For some of her 2.5 million inhabitants it was an exciting, fashionable and thriving metropolis. For many it was a city of squalor, decay, epidemics and early death and the disposal of the dead was becoming an increasing problem for the living.

London’s population had exploded but the authorities did not plan for the increasing numbers of the dead. Burial grounds and churchyards were filled beyond capacity with coffins stacked on top of each other in deep shafts. Open graves sat just feet from the living world.

At a time when there was little to no standards for sanitation, the burial of the deceased occurred in churchyards many of which in were in the middle of small towns. Over time the churchyards became so overflowing with dead bodies that the surrounding neighborhoods became decidedly unhealthy.

The bodies were usually buried in shallow pits beneath the floorboards of chapels and schools.


Enon Chapel was opened in April 1822 by a corrupt and greedy Baptist minister, Mr W. Howse. The chapel was built over an open sewer in Clements Lane, close to the Strand. The local residents suffered from appalling smells, vast numbers of rats and an atmosphere so putrid that it rotted exposed meat within hours. The local children noted the insects and flies crawling out of the coffins and vaults and nicknamed them ‘body bugs’. It wasn’t much better for the congregation either, who regularly passed out during services.

The cause lay under the flimsy floorboards but it was only discovered in 1839 when the authorities wanted to replace the open sewer. They made a grim discovery. The chapel was a charnel house that defied sanity. Offering far cheaper services than his rivals, Howse had over the years buried an estimated 12,000 bodies in a space fifty-nine feet by twelve. Vast numbers of decomposing bodies were separated from the living by a few inches of earth and some flimsy floorboards. To pack-in more bodies Howse emptied the coffins and burnt them for firewood. He dowsed bodies in quicklime for quicker decomposition, dumped human remains to fester in the sewer and loaded carts to discard into the Thames and landfill at Waterloo Bridge. He had got away with it by exploiting the fear many had of body snatchers removing their loved ones. They believed that the churchyards were more secure than more open burial grounds and cemeteries.

The authorities closed the chapel and vaulted over the sewer but, unbelievably, did not remove the bodies. The chapel was renamed Clare Market Chapel and let to a teetotaller sect who exploited the macabre history of the chapel for tea dances, fancy dress balls and gambling. ‘Dances on the dead’ went the advert, which also insisted that lady and gentlemen must wear shoes and stockings for admittance.

Another addition to the coffin’s interior was usually a bell of some sort. Due to the contagious nature of diseases like small pox, cholera and diphtheria as well as the misdiagnosis of comas for death, unfortunately many people were actually buried alive in the Victorian age. Therefore, as a means of forestalling a not quite dead person’s burial, the installation of bells in coffins became de rigeuer.

The Vancouver Sun
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
26 Jul 2007, Thu  •  Page 7

What’s in Your Walls? A Concealed Shoe?

How Heavenly Funeral Potatoes Got Their Name

How Religion Came to Richmond and the First Masonic Funeral

The Young Family Funeral Home Lanark County

The Woman Who Got the Dead End Sign Removed in Carleton Place

Ed Fleming — The First Funeral Parlour in Carleton Place

Funerals With Dignity in Carleton Place – Just a Surrey with a Fringe on Top —- Our Haunted Heritage

Blast From the Past–Remembering Alan Barker– July 4 1979

Dead Ringers –To Live and Die in Morbid Times

The Ashton Funeral to end all Funerals

The Last Man to Let you Down? Political Leanings at Local Funeral Homes?

Embalming 1891 – A Local Report

What was one of the Largest Funerals in Lanark County?

Things You Just Don’t say at a Funeral— Even if you Are a Professional Mourner

A Tale From the Patterson Funeral Home — Carleton Place

Blast From the Past–Remembering Alan Barker– July 4 1979

Embalming 1891 – A Local Report

Suicides and Crime Genealogy–Know Your Burial Procedure

Suicides and Crime Genealogy–Know Your Burial Procedure


Photo by Robert McDonald- St. James Cemetery Walk


Some times it gets frustrating not finding church records or headstones for those searching their families genealogy. If one of your ancestors took a dram of Carbolic Acid or Paris Green, or charged with a felony, chances are you will have great difficulty in finding them.

Church law on suicides has never been as simple as many make out, in most cases it fell on the the locals to decide whether the body could be buried in the churchyard or not and indeed whether he would perform the funeral service in the church at the grave or not at all.

In the St, James Anglican Church cemetery in Carleton Place there are bodies buried on the outside of the fence near the road as they had been charged with a crime or committed suicide. The responsibility of deciding in what case the exceptions be made was once thrown upon the clergyman who had cure of all the souls in the parish where the suicide is to be buried.

In the year 1823 it was enacted that the body of a suicide should be buried privately between the hours of nine and twelve at night, with no religious ceremony. In 1882 this law was altered where every penalty was removed except that internment could not be solemnised by a burial service, and the body may now be committed to the earth at any time, and with such rites or prayers as those in charge of the funeral think fit or may be able to procure. It was now lawful for these to be buried in consecrated ground, although without the benefit of a religious service. It also brought to an end the tradition of driving a stake through the body and throwing lime over it.

Before 1880 no body could be buried in consecrated ground except with the service of the Church, which the incumbent of the parish or a person authorized by him was bound to perform; but the canons and prayer-book refused the use of the office for excommunicated persons, for some grievous and notorious crime, and no person able to testify of his repentance, unbaptized persons, and persons against whom a verdict of felony had been found. .




At a burial in a cemetery (as opposed to churchyards) there would have been the usual burial service (always assuming that there were mourners there to attend of course). It wouldn’t have been any different to any other funeral really, and the grave could have been in either consecrated or unconsecrated ground.

Not all ground in a cemetery is consecrated because if you think about it logically, there are burials for all different sorts of religions and creeds and it would not do for a Muslim for example to be buried in consecrated ground, or someone of the Jewish faith to be interred in such ground. These faiths usually have their own sections within cemetery grounds.

Deaths by suicide are eventually registered in the normal way however as the death is “unexpected” it will be reported to the Coroner and he will hold an inquest. If such a death occurred in your family in the past there should be some record within the coroner’s office – but not sure how long they keep the records – not all coroners keep them since the year dot!!



From - The Dominion Annual Register For the Twentieth Year of the Canadian
Union 1886.  Edited by Harry James Morgan.






Clipped from The Pittsburgh Press,  16 Jul 1911, Sun,  Page 2



Believe it or Not!!!-

Clipped from The Brandon Sun,  08 Jul 1975, Tue,  Page 12


Clipped from The Winnipeg Tribune,  24 Sep 1915, Fri,  Page 9


Clipped from The Coffeyville Daily Journal,  02 Jan 1897, Sat,  Page 2


Come and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read. Also check out The Tales of Carleton Place.

Information where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in The Townships Sun andScreamin’ Mamas (USA)



Twitching or Grave Dousing– Our Haunted Heritage

The Sad Lives of Young Mothers and Children in Early Carleton Place

The Non Kosher Grave — Our Haunted Heritage

Tales of the Tombstones — The Crozier Children




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