The impressive church of St Michael and All Hallows church overlooks the village of Mottram in Longdendale. In it’s large churchyard, all the gravestones have been laid flat and are slowly being sucked out of sight by the infamous creeping turf. Here and there, small visible parts of gravestones are tantalisingly visible. One that is on show tells a story that is enough to chill the blood of any parent whose children have pre-deceased them.
James Brierley was a woollen manufacturer. In 1827, his son Lewis (15) was kicked by a horse and died. A friend offered his own family grave as a resting place for Lewis. Sadly, a mix-up meant the grave was not ready to receive Lewis’ body on the day of the funeral and he was interred in another grave that had been dug nearby.
The boy’s mother was not well enough to attend the funeral but became convinced someone would steal her son’s body. She died a few months afterwards and was buried in a separate grave. There had been several cases of body snatching in the area. James Brierley arranged for Lewis’ grave to be opened. He and his friends lifted the coffin and found it contained nothing but a shroud. He kept the coffin and took it home, announcing that he intended to be buried in it. It is not known if he was, when he was buried at Stalybridge in 1853.
He had the following inscription carved on his sons gravestone:
“In memory of Lewis, son of James and Mary Brierley of Valley Mill Who died October 3rd 1827, in the 15th year of his age,
Though once beneath the ground his corpse laid,
For use of surgeons it was then convey’d,
Vain was the scheme to hide the impious theft,
The body taken, shroud and coffin left,
Ye wretches who pursue this barb’rous trade,
Your corpses in turn may be convey’d,
Like his, to some unfeeling surgeon’s room,
Nor can they justly meet a better doom.”