Was your Ancestor Resurrected?

As part of a local history research project I am interested in people and things which travelled along the road from Luton through Harpenden to St Albans. While looking for something completely different I happened to find the following news item in The Times of 25th November 1823, and reprinted from the County Chronicle.




St Albans


At a weekly meeting of the Magistrates of the borough of St Albans, and the county of Hertford, in the Town Hall of that place, on Saturday last - present, the Earl of Verulam, Sir William Domville, Bart., Rev. Dr. Bowen, Rev. Mr. Gape, Mr. Brown (Mayor) and Mr. Kinder.

John Jerome, of No. 3, Kingsland-road, labourer, and John Holloway, of Gloucester-place, Hackney-road, gardener, were charged with having disinterred and carried away a male corpse from the church-yard of the parish of Luton, in the night of the 14th, or early on the morning of the 15th instant.

Mr. William Yardley, a farmer, and one of the churchwardens of the parish of Luton, in Bedfordshire, stated that he was informed of the exhumation of the corpse that morning by Mr. John Deacon, keeper of the House of Correction of the Borough of St Albans, whom he had accompanied on his return, for the purpose of prosecuting the investigation.

James Finder, a labourer, residing at Harpenden, deposed that he had left home at about five o'clock in the morning to go to Mr. Fowler's, at Simberlock-green. When he reached the St Alban's road, from Staker's-lane, he observed a cart, driven by the prisoner Jerome, and behind which the other prisoner Holloway was walking. He had not long proceeded down the road, when the smell of something offensive came towards him, as from the cart; he thought it that of a putrid corpse, and suspected the prisoners to be resurrection-men.

Shortly afterwards he was overtaken by his brother Thomas [Finder], to whom he communicated his suspicions. They increased their pace until they arrived at Mr. Fowler's, where they were going to work. They informed Mr. Fowler of the circumstance, and when the cart came up the gentleman told the men to stop; they refused, but witness and others took hold of the horse's head. The cart was then searched, and a male corpse (that of a very elderly man) was found in a sack under a quantity of straw. Witness assisted in conveying the corpse to St Peter's workhouse [St Albans].

Thomas Foster, an elderly man, deposed that he was sexton of the parish of Luton; saw Mr. John Deacon that morning in the church-yard, and observed that a grave had been disturbed in the night; the body of William Gilman was buried there on the 2nd instant (13 days since); the grave was not much disturbed; should have thought the cows had trampled over it, cows being allowed to graze in the church-yard; has seen the corpse since it has been in St Peter's workhouse; knows it to be that of the late William Gilman, with whom he had been acquainted for upwards of 45 years; the shroud and coffin were left behind; the lid of the coffin was taken entirely off, and all the screws taken out; it had been forced open at the shoulders; is sure he had never seen the prisoners before; nor ever received any money from them.

The witness Finder and his brother stated that they saw the prisoners about the same spot three or four days back. They were driving a cart very heavily loaded, and the smell was then offensive. The repetition of this circumstance prompted them to act as they had done. Mr. Yardley observed that their conduct should not go unrewarded.

Thomas Potter, master of St. Peter's workhouse, deposed to the corpse having been brought there about eight o'clock in the morning.

Jerome, on being asked if he had anything to say, observed that he should reserve his defence. Holloway was silent. The prisoners were committed for trial at the ensuing quarter sessions.

Jerome said he had borrowed the horse of William Clark, of Busby-street, Spital-square: the cart was hired of John Phillips, of Horseferry-road, whose name was on the off-side.

Brown, Esq., the Mayor of St Albans, directed the prisoners to be detained for a short time, and then securely conveyed to the House of Correction. He particularly cautioned the constables to protect the men from the mob. The Court-room, which is very spacious, was extremely crowded. The prisoners were much hooted on their way from the Town-hall.


For information on court records in Hertfordshire there is an excellent series of publications "Hertfordshire County Records" which provides a calendar of documents held at the Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies office in Hertford.

Volume 4 "Sessions Records of the Liberty of St Albans Division, 1770-1840" records that in the Epiphany Sessions (January) 1824 "John Jerome and John Holloway ordered to be sent to the goal of the county of Bedford, and be tried at the next assizes holden for that county, on the charge of having stolen and carried away the body of William Gillman from the churchyard in the parish of Luton." It gives the references Draft Sessions Book IX/418; and Goal Book IV/177.


In the early part of the 19th century the only legal source of bodies for anatomical research was the gallows. Resurrection men provided a supplementary source by stealing bodies from the grave. Sometimes it went even further. In 1827 William Burke kept Dr Robert Knox of Edinburgh well supplied with fresh bodies for surgical dissection, his source being William Hare's lodging house! At least 15 people were murdered by being made drunk and then suffocated. When suspicion was aroused Hare turned King's evidence, and Burke was hanged in 1829.

If you can add to the information given above tell me.


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