Ever Seen These Before?

I didn’t want to post this yesterday, because it almost sounds like a really lame attempt at an April fools and it’s totally not. I swear this a thing so bear with me while I explain!

Near to my parents’ house where I grew up in Upminster is the church of St. Laurence, and it’s churchyard with extensive cemetery. According to my favourite information source Wikipedia, the church on this site is a classic 13th century style church but with a great deal of later updates and rebuilding. It is known as the location where the speed of sound was first measured by the Reverend of the time. All in all, it’s a pretty cool church to visit if you’re ever in Upminster.

There are four super old gravestones of interest in the churchyard which I am reliably told here date from 1695-1717. I liked walking past these on my walk home from school, they are propped up against the wall of the church on the Aldi side and are interesting but not what I consider the most awesome thing about the churchyard. They nicely have the iconography of the period with a skull on at least two as below.

Before I knew this was standard, my brain leapt to pirate graves!

On the path that extends away from the church towards my old primary school and Superdrug are two wooden board like structures. Currently one is standing and one is laying on the ground looking a bit sad. I remember there being a few more when I walked through here on my way to school but I can only find two now. I seem to also remember more were propped up against one of the hall buildings at the side for some time and I hope they are still around somewhere.

These wooden objects are bed headboards. When I was younger I became fascinated by these, I think someone from the church told me or my Dad that these were used by people as gravemarkers when the family could not afford a gravestone. It’s the actual headboard from the person’s bed. Adding something from their daily life to their final resting place, and this captured my imagination intensely. Not only is that just cool, that’s a bit of old furniture hanging out in the graveyard and a wooden object is unusual, I assume, because of the temporary nature of the material.

More recently, I’ve visited a lot of cemeteries and I’ve not encountered this anywhere else. So I tried to research them online and I can’t seem to find anything like this referenced anywhere. I feel like this is extremely unlikely to be the only example so I can only imagine I’m being rubbish at research or searching completely the wrong thing.

Therefore, this post is part to show you this cool funerary practice but also a bit of a plea to try and find someone who knows more about them.It was known in Anglo Saxon times for people to have full bed burials but these are much later and are just the headboard. I’d love to see more examples and hear more about this happening.

Thanks for reading this as always and I hope you enjoy my little random post. Please do share, comment and tell me if you think this is cool! I’m certain this must have happened in other places, so please let me know if your local cemetery has these too!

MG x

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