Music tells the story of Norfolk’s gruesome bodysnatching past
PUBLISHED: 13:24 19 January 2015 | UPDATED: 13:24 19 January 2015
It is the gruesome side of our region’s history that remains both fascinating and frightening more than 180 years later.
The story of the bodysnatchers, who stole corpses from graveyards to help surgeons further their understanding of anatomy, have been well documented in history books.
But now a local folk fan is helping to tell their tale through the medium of music after penning a song about their grisly exploits.
Peter Hood was inspired into penning a song about the Great Yarmouth bodysnatchers after hearing about the work they did on a local radio phone in, while he was waiting to be interviewed about his music.
Mr Hood said: “There was a woman phoning in talking about a book she’d written about bodysnatchers. I was so involved in this I honestly forgot why I was there and thought this would be a really good song.
The bodysnatching crimes were carried out in 19th century Yarmouth, when men were paid to steal bodies for surgeons to further their understanding of the human body.
More than 20 bodies were stolen from the town’s Minster church in 1827
Fresh corpses and the bodies of children fetched the highest prices for bodysnatchers, who were also known as resurrectionists
Amongst those who employed bodysnatchers was the renowned surgeon Sir Astley Cooper, the son of Yarmouth’s vicar. He employed Thomas Vaughan, a former stonemason, who rented a house on Row Six and stole 10 bodies from the Minster churchyard. Vaughan concealed the corpses in old houses on the row before packing them in crates of sawdust and sending them by wagon to London, via Norwich. He was paid 10 to 12 guineas for each body, but was eventually arrested and jailed for six months.
“It just inspired me.”
The dad-of-two set to work and after striking upon an angle for the song, involving a woman whose husband had died, the lyrics came quickly.
His song, The Bodysnatchers of Yarmouth Town, can now be downloaded and streamed and he has performed it a few times to appreciative crowds.
Mr Hood, a retired social worker, said: “People have really liked it and I’m really pleased with it. It’s quite a unique song and it’s a unique part of Yarmouth’s history that shouldn’t be forgotten.”
Having played guitar for around 40 years, music has always been a big part of Mr Hood’s life and, over the years, he has written scores of songs.
While he dabbled in stand up, many of his songs were comical tunes – but more recently he has taken his hobby in a more serious direction.
Mr Hood, from Carlton Colville, is heavily involved in the Waveney Folk Club and has previously penned a song about the demise of Eastern Coach Works, based in Lowestoft, where he also used to work.
He added: “I like doing these more serious folk songs. I’m very interested in history, I find it very satisfying.”