St Brides' Coffin

A rusty iron coffin, the ultimate in post morten security*
A rusty iron coffin, the ultimate in post morten security

As I strolled down Fleet Street I passed St Brides' Church, which was open and which, it occurred to me, I had never visited. I popped in, to discover the Printers' Church. Due to its location, St Brides was patronised by the printers and journalists of Fleet Street, many of whom are comemorated on its walls or elsewhere.

Down in the crypt are some Roman ruins from the city of Londinium as well as remains from the original church on this site. However what caught my eye was a rusty old coffin down the far end of the narrow crypt.

Rusty? Yes, rusty, because this coffin was made of iron and was so designed that once the lid had been pressed or hammered on, it simply could not be removed. At the time, the medical schools of London were dependant on hanged criminals for their dissections and anatomy lessons, but dead criminals could not always be produced to order. A thriving trade grew up, therefore, in the supply of dead bodies, no questions asked.

Some of these dubious bodies came from murders to order, but others came from legitimate burials dug up at dead of night and the empty coffins replaced in their graves. To prevent this, these iron coffins were produced. The only trouble was that because they were made of iron, they wouldn't decompose so readily, which posed a problem for the overcrowded cemeteries of London.