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Waulud's Bank



The article is strongly entitled 'British Archaeology and Philistinism'. He's very cross and frustrated.
At the end of the second week in July two contracted skeletons were found in a nurseryman's grounds near the famous British camp at Leagrave, Luton. Both were greatly contracted; one, on its right side, had both arms straight down, one under the body the other above; the other skeleton lay upon its left side, with the left hand under the face and the right arm straight down. Both were probably female, and upon the breast of one was a fine bronze pin seven inches long with three pendant ornaments, and three discs of bronze, one plated with gold. Other bronzes of great interest were found with the second skeleton.

I do not write to describe the bones and ornament, but to make public the conduct of the Luton authority. A most intelligent workman lives close to the site of the discovery - one Thomas Cumberland - a man who has studied the antiquities of the district for many years, and to whom antiquaries are indebted for great and freely given assistance. This man was on the spot at once, and clearly and correctly stated the age of the bones and ornaments as British or late Celtic.

Notwithstanding this information, the local police insisted on an inquest, although the bones were broken to pieces and in the highest degree friable. I went ot the nursery and confirmed Mr. Cumberland's determination, made drawings of the bronzes, and such an examination of the bones as circumstances would permit.

The coroner refused to hold an inquest, and so had no authority to make any order, but he wrote and "suggested" that the bones should be buried in the parish churchyard. Armed with this "suggestion," the relieving officer ordered an undertaker to carry off the bones, which he did, in spite of the protest of the nurseryman, who informed him that they had been given to me and were my property. He was ordered to put the bones in coffins and bury them in the churchyard of Biscot. The undertaker took the bones to his shop at Luton. I at once applied to the relieving officer for permission to examine adn measure some of the bones. I clearly explained to him the nature and importance of the discovery, and the trifling nature of the favour asked. This official replied in a curt and rude manner, and simply said, "I have no authority; you must apply to the coroner."

I repeatedly wrote to the undertaker to delay the funeral for a few days. I twice wrote to the coroner in an urgent but most respectful manner, and pointed out the importance of the discovery, which, indeed, is quite unique in this district, but all to no purpose. He said he had not given the "order" for burial, and he refused to interfere, but he wrote to the undertaker and said, "I can give no consent or authority in any way, but must leave you to carry out the arrangement which has been come to with you." I wrote letters for six days to the different persons concerned, but to no effect; they would have a funeral, and the police now actually demanded the bronzes from the owner. The property is free-hold.

Well, on Wednesday last the two coffins were screwed up at Luton and taken in a hearse to Biscot churchyard, where the vicar, in the presence of a policeman, officiated. Shining breastplates were screwed on to the coffins inscribed, "Bones found at Leagrave, July 1905." Amongst the bones in the coffins were several non-human examples, a rib bone of a sheep, a piece of a rib of beef, a bone of a rabbit, and another of roebuck.

Worthington G. Smith.
From 'Nature' v72 (27th July 1905, p 294/5).
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
27th September 2012ce
Edited 27th September 2012ce

Comments (2)

Ouch. That's a pretty sorry tale. English petty bureaucracy at its worst, although it's not entirely clear what the writer would have done with the bones himself, if he had prevailed. thesweetcheat Posted by thesweetcheat
27th September 2012ce
Yes it occurred to me too, they'd probably be lost in a cigar box in a drawer somewhere. But at least not mouldering in an expensively labelled grave? Daft palaver. Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
27th September 2012ce
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