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The State of Laceby Churchyard (1874)


It would seem that Laceby was not a healthy village to live in at this time. I would like to thank George Black for bringing these newspaper articles to my attention.

Article in the Grimsby Observer and Humber News – 24th June, 1874


From statements made concerning this parish it would seem that its sanitary condition is in a most alarming state.

At a recent meeting of the Board of Guardians at Caistor the Health Officer’s report of visits made to Habrough, Clee and Laceby was read by the clerk. It contained some startling disclosures in regard to the neglect of sanitary precautions at Laceby, in consequence of which the village is rarely free from disease.

He found two cases of typhoid fever, the sufferers being both of the butchers. There had been eight interments in six weeks, and the inhabitants of some of the houses surrounding the churchyard bitterly complained of its state.

A letter was read in which an inhabitant, addressing the health officer, instanced more cases of fever, stated that there had been eleven deaths in nine weeks in a population of about 1000, that the fever was hushed up by the doctors, and again called his attention to the state of the churchyard etc. I

In discussion it was mentioned that an order had already been issued from the Home Office for the closure of the churchyard as a burial ground on the 24th December next, but the general opinion of the meeting seemed to be that some decided action should be taken anticipatory of it.

The Chairman said it was their duty to put an immediate stop to such practices – Mr W Iles said when the weather was wet and warm too the ooze from the churchyard was dreadful. It was explained that the surface had been lowered 2ft 6 in or 3 ft, and that the remaining soil was saturated with decomposing animal matter.

Mr Loft said the report was exaggerated. The Health Officer said it was not, and brought forward proofs. As to fever never being free of the place, he knew from certain and reliable information that there had been 100 cases of typhoid fever in the village in one year, and if it was not of a low kind to cause deaths it would create pauperism.”

Tuesday, July 28, 1874

“Bad Condition of Laceby Churchyard.

The Medical Officer of Health to the Caistor Poor Law Union having made a report alleging an unsanitary condition of Laceby Churchyard, a committee appointed by the rural Sanitary Authority of the Caistor Union met at the Waterloo Inn, Laceby, to investigate the matter. The committee’s report presented to the meeting of Caistor Board of Guardians the following month revealed some shocking details.

Some time previously, during work of restoration of the church, soil had been removed from the churchyard to a depth of 2ft 6in, and it was declared that further soil had been removed since. This was, indeed, admitted by the Rector. It was this removal of soil that had led to unsanitary conditions as it meant that many of the buried bodies were now much nearer the surface than was desirable.

Druggist’s Statement

A Mr Watson, druggist, of Laceby told the committee that he had noticed a bad smell on the north side of the churchyard when soil was removed. He took up a handful of earth, found it was heavy and did not really look like soil. He carried it away and boiled it and a froth collected round the pan. The experiment put him against his food for some days afterwards He declared that some loads of soil had been taken away from the churchyard in the spring of this year. The Rector, who was present at the inquiry, admitted that a certain protion had been removed.

Foot in Coffin

A Mr Youhill expressed the belief that the removal of soil at the time the church was restored was injurious, and was still so. While walking over the churchyard he put his foot on a grave and it slipped into a coffin This coffin was not more than four inches from the surface.

Gravedigger’s Statement

John Audiss, who had been gravedigger from 1869 to 1872, said he resigned the job because he dug up many skulls and skeletons. Once when digging a grave, and about three feet down, the side of an adjacent coffin gave way and the skeleton of a woman he had known (but whose name he did not wish to tell), fell into the grave he was digging. He had to push it back and make it as secure as he could. The stench was very bad. During the time the church porch was being restored he dug over 25 or 26 skulls and parts of skeletons, and buried them together in a hole in the churchyard. When he resigned he was asked why he would not dig any more graves. He replied that some day he might dig up his own father.

Medical Officer’s Statement

In a long, written statement, the Medical Officer submitted that, since the removal of the 2ft 6in of soil, bringing the coffins so dangerously near the surface and the exposure to the atmosphere for days of masses of soil saturated with animal matter (as proved by Mr Watson’s rough experiment), the churchyard had become a nuisance injurious to health. He said the year after the removal of the soil the state of sickness in the village was such that a report was ordered to be made by the medical officer of the district, and that report showed that there had been 100 cases of fever that season in a population of 1,025; that the state of matters was so bad that the chairman of the Board of Guardians was requested to lay the report before the Bench of Magistrates of the district with a view to its being remedied.

The death rate of Laceby for the quarter ending June 30 is 43 per 1,000; whereas in the town of Market Rasen, with a population of 2,815, with defective drainage and bad water supply, the death rate for the same quarter was 21 per 1,000; whilst in the town of Caistor, with a population of 2,012, the death rate was only 7¾. This shows conclusively, that influences are at work in Laceby acting prejudicially on the health of the people, and I submit that owing to its state the churchyard, although not the sole, is yet a prime cause of such baneful influences.”

The new Laceby Cemetery opened in 1875 at the top of Mill Lane, which was eventually renamed Cemetery Road.