'Grave Robbing' at Shelford

Photo:St. Peters Church, Shelford in about 1910

St. Peters Church, Shelford in about 1910

Photo:Coat with a red velvet collar

Coat with a red velvet collar

This one was not, so far as we know, made from coffin material

Shelford Men and their Red Collars

In the early years of the 19th century, as a new fashion in clothing spread amongst the gentlemen of the Nottinghamshire village of Shelford, few could have realised that what lay behind it was the sinister practice of grave-robbing.

In 1879, local historian, J.Potter Briscoe, recorded how this singular occurence came about:

“Some years ago the people of Shelford were much talked of among their neighbours for wearing red velvet collars to their coats.

“Everyone wondered whence this strange fashion could have arisen.  At length the vicar, a sagacious and pious man, discovered it proceeded from a cause as singular as lamentable.

“The dandy tailor, who gave the fashions to the village, was also the sexton.  As Shelford is the burial place of the Earls of Chesterfield, ‘Mr. tailor and Sexton’ had ‘cabbaged’ red velvet from the coffins of the noble sleepers for the country round.

“The vicar wrote in great horror and lamentation to the earl on the subject of this unhallowed depredation.  The witty earl, however, administered but ghostly comfort to the vicar.  His lordship exhorted him to moderate the excess of his sorrow, and to join with himself in admiring and commending the provident ingenuity of the village tailor, for bringing into light, and employing usefully what his ancestors and himself had consigned to eternal darkness and decay”.

From ‘The Book of Nottinghamshire Anecdote’ by John Potter BRISCOE, Nottingham: Shepherd Brothers, 1879)

This page was added by Edna Welthorpe on 06/01/2013.

If you're already a registered user of this site, please login using the form on the left-hand side of this page.