Here at Loony Literature, we are always looking for springboards to get folks writing. So if you are thinking of writing a short story, you may be interested to know that buying a keepsake when you visited somewhere or experienced something is not a new thing. However, in the 19th century some of the keepsakes which were purchased were rather gruesome to say the least. In essence, they were real short story fodder.
Murder Most Horrid.
For instance, when Burke, of the famous Hare and Burke duo of body snatchers, was to be executed, 20,000 people cheered as the scaffold was built. When Burke appeared, the mob went wild screaming what they would personally like to do to him. Every time Burke convulsed as his body was hanged, the crowd raised an even louder roar, a sort of cheer because he was suffering so much.
A wallet was made from his scalp
When Burke’s body was removed from the scaffold, souvenir hunters descended like scavengers grabbing at shavings from the coffin or pieces of the rope. If this seems strange, it was quite normal back then. The rope which hanged Burke would have been sold off in inches because so many people wanted a keepsake of the event. In fact, a wallet was made from Burke’s scalp and is now in the History of Surgery Museum in Edinburgh’s Royal College of Surgeons.
A Grisly Day Out.
After he had been cut down, Burke’s body was taken to an anatomy theatre which was ironic as that was where he had taken the bodies of the folks he had murdered so that he could get money for them. A cast was taken of Burke’s head and then a dissection was performed. Outside people fought to get inside to taste a piece of the action. The next day, there was a display of the body and visitors could file past it from ten in the morning until dusk. It is believed that as many as 30,000 people turned up to see Burke’s body.
Come on, this is asking for you to write a horror story.
Stuck for something to write about? Here at Loony Literature, we are pure suckers for history so when we come across something which we think might be a good springboard to get you folks writing, we will shout about it. Even if this doesn’t make you start writing frantically, it will inform and entertain you – hopefully.
To write or not to write.
In the 18th century ‘smock weddings’ were a type of ceremony. A ‘smock wedding’ would see a bride getting married in the nude or barefoot and wearing only a chemise or underskirt, as we call them these days. The idea was that if she brought no clothes or property to the marriage, her new husband to be was not liable for any of the debts of her past life.
The smock wedding was particularly useful for a widowed woman whose husband had died leaving a lot of debts. We know because of a newspaper report in September 1775 that a Mr Richard Elcock who was bricklayer married Mrs Judith Redding. It seems that so Mr Elcock would not be liable for any of the debts that Mrs Redding might have been left with from an earlier marriage, she went into one of the pews in the church and stripped off everything except her slip.
A few years earlier, at Saint Michael’s Church in Ashton under Lyne, Nathaniel Eller married the widow Hibbert. Both of them were around fifty years of age. The widow went through the ceremony with her hair tied behind with horse hair and wearing only a shift so that her new husband would not have to pay off any of her former husband’s debts.
In December 1797, several newspapers reported from St Philips parish church in Birmingham that the bride wore nothing. She was a woman of wealth and property but she was marrying a debt ridden husband and she believed that getting married in the nude would prevent her new husband’s creditors from seizing her property. She was not the only lady to be married in that fashion. It seems that some women would turn up to church in a cloak and nothing else. With a flourish they would remove the cloak and the ceremony would begin.