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Body Snatching!

1828

Information

Body snatching was a fairly common practice in the 18th century and 19th centuries. Doctors were in need of human corpses to study, but these were in short supply since the common religious belief at the time was that the body must remain intact for the Day of Judgement. Before the Anatomy Act of 1832, the only legal supply of corpses for anatomical purposes in Britain was those condemned to death and dissection by the courts.  Body snatchers (or resurrection men) were the entrepreneurs who filled the demand! Interfering with a grave was only a misdemeanour at common law, not a felony, and therefore only punishable with a fine and imprisonment rather than transportation or execution, so the lucrative trade was worth the risk. In Peterborough the first instance of body snatching was in 1828. It happened in Cowgate cemetery which used to stand at the top of Cowgate (it was completely removed in the 198os with the development of Queensgate Shopping Centre). One evening a cart was seen outside the cemetery with two men loading suspicious sacks onto it. The alarm was raised and the men fled, with a cart-chase ending near Norman Cross, where the men abandoned their getaway cart with its grisly cargo and fled over the fields. Body snatching continued to be a problem until about 1860. To prevent it relatives would watch over the graves and guard huts were set up in the cemeteries, one of these from Eye cemetery can be seen in Peterborough Museum.