Corpse Trouble at Iffley Lock Toll
5 August 2021 (Updated 23 November 2021)
There was a belief for many centuries that if a corpse was carried across private land then the path it took would immediately become a public right of way. This caused concern for the owners of toll gates such as that at Iffley Lock, whose right to charge people to cross the river dated back to the 13th century.
Superstitious gatekeepers feared that if a corpse was allowed to pass through their toll gate then their right to charge people would be voided, and they would be out of a job.
A drowning dilemma
In 1926 the landlord of the Isis Hotel at Iffley drowned in the river, and his body needed to be carried across the river to Iffley church. Rather than allowing the body to pass across the bridge and through the toll gate, it was arranged for the body to be lowered onto a raft, punted across the river, and lifted up the bank to re-join the mourners who had crossed via the more conventional route!
Awkward questions for Lincoln College
In 1948 another man drowned in the river nearby, but when the police recovered his body and attempted to transport it through the toll gate, the gatekeeper refused to allow them through the gate. A negotiation ensued and, as a compromise, the policemen were permitted to avoid the toll gate by lifting the body over a nearby wall!
The incident resulted in some awkward questions being asked of Lincoln College, who owned and operated Iffley Lock toll gate. The college authorities admitted knowledge of the superstition concerning corpses and the toll gate but denied actually instructing their gatekeeper to refuse access. The gatekeeper was reprimanded by the coroner for his actions.
- 'Folklore of Oxfordshire' by Christine Bloxham (Tempus Publishing, 2005, ISBN: 9780752436647)
- 'A Grim Almanac of Oxfordshire' by Nicola Sly (The History Press, 2013, ISBN: 978752465814)
- 'Even royalty couldn’t escape Iffley Lock toll' (oxfordmail.co.uk)