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DIG FINDS EVIDENCE OF GRAVE ROBBING.

Byline: Mary Griffin ENVIRONMENT REPORTER

EVIDENCE of grave robbing at a 19th century burial ground has been unearthed by archaeologists.

They were digging a site in West Bromwich when they discovered a "mortsafe", a metal contraption placed round a coffin to stop grave robbers stealing the body.

It's thought to be the only mortsafe recorded in the Midlands.

The dig, at the former Providence Baptist Chapel and graveyard in Sandwell Road, has been featured on the History Channel and Sandwell Council is now planning to display the finds in an exhibition.

Sandwell Council's Cabinet Member for Leisure and Culture, Coun Linda Horton, said: "We knew that the chapel and the burial ground existed, but we weren't expecting the incredible finds that the archaeologists discovered."

Grave robbery was common in the 18th and early 19th century when the corpses were sold to medical schools to teach anatomy.

West Bromwich would have been a hotbed of grave robbers, supplying the anatomy and medical schools that were being set up in Birmingham in the late 1700s.

As well as the mortsafe, the team discovered three coffins buried with large planks of wood on top of them - evidence of attempts to deter the body snatchers.

There was also a double-decker brick coffin where the body on top concealed a false bottom to the cof-fin and a hidden burial beneath.

Following the excavation, the remains from the 148 graves were removed and given a Baptist burial in Heath Lane cemetery.

Frank Caldwell, Sandwell Council's museums manager, said: "The body protected by the mortsafe belonged to a young woman who we found suffered from a disfiguring skin and bone disease, which meant that her remains would have fetched a premium for the body snatchers.

"That would be why her body was protected by the mortsafe - her family were concerned that it would be stolen. However it appears that the money paid for a fresh body - over PS25 when a daily wage in a factory might be no more than 20 to 30p - meant these guards were often bribed to turn a blind eye."

CAPTION(S):

Discovery: Archaeologists Dr Graham Eyre Morgan and David Doyle look at a fishtail coffin dating back to the early 19th century.

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Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Date:Jan 18, 2013
Words:370
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