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St. Kenelm's Church, Enstone

St. Kenelm's Church, Enstone

A body-snatching hoax at Enstone church

9 February 2023

In February 1832, the peaceful village of Enstone was suddenly alive with stories of resurrection men and body-snatching. But were these rumours true? Only reopening the grave would reveal the truth!

Deaths, rumours and gossip in Enstone

The rumours centred around the recently-widowed Ann Harrison, who's husband had been buried at St. Kenelm's church on 12th February. The word among what Jackson's Oxford Journal describes as the 'lower orders of the town' was that Ann had made a quick buck by selling her husbands body, presumably to one of the anatomy schools in Oxford who had a great need for fresh cadavers to use in teaching.

It is not recorded what sparked these rumours. Perhaps some perceived secrecy about the body prior to burial led some to believe that Ann Harrison was planning to bury an empty coffin? Perhaps Harrison was just generally disliked in the village and so thought of as the sort of person who might take such an action, given the opportunity? It's more likely that the rumours were based on absolutely nothing, and inspired by the general hysteria about body-snatching that was circulating in the press at the time. The trial and execution of the notorious Burke and Hare had taken place just a few years before so paranoia about so-called 'resurrection men' was at its peak.

Extract from Jackson's Oxford Journal on the Enstone body-snatching hoax

An extract from Jackson's Oxford Journal, 24 February 1832.

The grave is reopened.

In the days following Mr Harrison's burial, the rumours blossomed into a full-blown scandal, and surely an extremely upsetting one for Ann Harrison, who was trying to mourn her husband while fighting off vicious rumours about her personal conduct. Eventually on the 16th February the local vicar arranged for the grave to be dug up and the coffin publicly re-opened to confirm whether or not Mr Harrison's body was within.

One can only imagine what a disappointment it must have been for the village gossips when the coffin was opened and Mr Harrison's body was found within, just as Ann Harrison had insisted it would be!