The Corpseway

A friend wrote to me in 1871 to say that at Redcar in Cleveland, in the earlier part of this century, a funeral was preceded by a public breakfast. Then the coffin was carried slung upon towels knotted together, and borne by relays of men to Maroke (Marske?), up the old ‘ Corpseway,’ and bumped upon a heap of stones, three times. This was an ancient resting-place at the top of the hill. The ‘Lamentation of a Sinner’ was then sung, and the procession moved to the churchyard, every man, woman, and child receiving a dole of sixpence as they entered.

Examples of Printed Folklore Concerning the North Riding of Yorkshire, York & the Ainsty. Collected & Edited by Mrs Gutch. Publications of The Folklore Society. 1901

6 thoughts on “The Corpseway

  1. What a brilliant photo – poor soul, now nameless. On Dartmoor the corpse road are the Lich Way – quite a challenge in winter I should imagine. No public breakfast before setting out either I should think. Do you get Sin Eaters up your way?

    1. Thanks, that graveyard is on a clifftop facing the sea, and the wind is pretty merciless.
      References to funeral breakfasts are quite rare, it’s generally a funeral tea after the ceremony. We don’t have a local sin eating tradition as far as I’m aware but we do have Arval or funeral cakes/bread/biscuits, many of our folk traditions have a strong Scandinavian/Northern European leaning.
      I believe Lich probably has the same etylmology as our Lyke as in Lyke Wake and Lych all meaning Corpse. The modern Lyke Wake Walk across the North York Moors took it’s name from this tradition. You might enjoy this


      1. What a brilliant discussion this is turning into. It never occurred to me how the Scandinavian/N. European traditions would live on. I was a bit stuck on just placenames in the landscape. I think Lich is also spelt Lych on Dartmoor and of course, many churches have a Lych Gate. Off to check your link. I still haven’t got back to my ironing!!

    1. Up here we could also throw at least a century of acid rain into the mix John.
      I can remember many years ago when the Norwegian govt blamed Teesside’s acid rain for not only the denudation of their forestry but also rotting tights as they hung on washing lines, it seemed like an oddly specific item to highlight.

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