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Raiders of the Grave. Churches Conservation Trust - Lunchtime Lectures #33

Whoever said churches were dull and boring clearly hasn't been following our weekly lecture series. Our free lectures take place live every Thursday online, but you can catch up on every single one right here. Our lectures explore everything from art, architecture, history, politics to even some pretty weird and wonderful topics too!

Another video in our highlights from the CCT Lunchtime Lecture series.

This weeks video: Raiders of the Grave: Macabre tales of Body snatchers & what churches did to stop them with S. Lennox

"Body snatchers were a product of their time, when medical schools had a great need for corpses but no legal means of obtaining them." - Eleanor Herman

Resurrectionists (1847), by Hablot Knight Browne.

Between 1742 and 1832, men of the lowest form of character targeted Britain’s churchyards for perhaps one of the most macabre practises you’ll ever come across.

Burke and Hare. Scotland's most famous resurrection men.

Resurrection men or body snatchers, plagued our churchyards and stole our dead all in the name of science. Providing a fresh and steady supply of cadavers for the anatomy schools of London and Edinburgh and everywhere in-between. But how did we go about stopping them?

A mortsafe in St Mary's Churchyard, Holystone. Photo credit johndal_Flickr

This lecture will look at the different forms of body snatching prevention that developed in a sometimes futile attempt to keep the resurrection men at bay. After briefly discussing why such large number of cadavers were needed for the teaching of anatomy, we will address the modus operandi of the body snatcher, hearing of a few not so successful attempts along the way.

But just how efficient were body snatchers when it came to raiding our graveyards and what did parishes and loved ones of the deceased do to try to stop them?

A mortsafe in Greyfriars Kirkyard. Photo credit - Kim Traynor

From simple watch houses to the more elaborate caged lair, this will be a tour of Britain that you perhaps won’t see in the travel guides. We’ll look at some of the more famous examples to lesser known artifacts, demonstrating just how prolific body snatchers had become before their world would start tumbling down with the arrests of the now infamous duo, the murderers Burke and Hare.

"Body snatchers were the ultimate grave robbers, stealing from the dead for the benefit of the living." Andrew McConnell Stott

Dalkeith town cemetery watchtower

Dipping our toes into locations throughout Britain, join this whirlwind tour of all things macabre just before the eve of All Hallows.

Suzie Lennox studied History at Teesside and completed her Master’s degree in Archive Administration in 2011 before leaving the sector in 2015. She has been researching all aspects of body snatching for over fifteen years, after writing about the legal implications of the trade for her dissertation at university. Her book ‘Body snatchers: Digging Up The Untold Story of Britain’s Resurrection Men’ was published by Pen & Sword in 2016.

Check out the full range of video lectures Here and Here

Stay tuned for more videos from the CCT in coming weeks.

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