The fascinating book ‘Bog Bodies’ by Melanie Giles was added to our Local Studies collection last year because it features Derbyshire’s own contribution to natural mummification, ‘The Hope Couple’.
On 14th January 1674 a Mr. Barber, described as a grazier (a person who rears or fattens cattle for market) headed out from Hope with his maidservant, intending to get to Ireland. Both sadly perished in heavy snowfall near Whin Hill, a prominent landmark in the area which is surrounded by peat bog. When the snow receded in May the pitiful state of their remains was revealed. The local coroner decided to bury the bodies where they fell. Perhaps no-one would volunteer to carry the corpses back into the valley, or maybe this action was taken to cover up a scandal – were Mr. Barber and his maid eloping? A quick interment in the wilds also absolved the parish paying for their burial.
The locals must have known that peat has preserving properties and so, inevitably, a few people, memorised or marked up the burial site seeing an opportunity for some summertime enterprise. Visitors, most likely sworn to secrecy, would be led up to the spot where the bodies would be repeatedly exposed, marvelled over and covered over again with the acidic soil. This venture appears to have happened for a number of years until forty-eight years later Barber’s grandson was called upon to pay for a funeral for both of them.
Here at the Record Office we hold a certification letter from Reverend Wormald, the incumbent of Hope who was responsible for ensuring their remains finally entered holy ground at Hope Parish Church, thus putting a stop to the pair being occasionally dug up for ‘entertainment’:
Transcript of the above note:
This may Certifie to who it may concern that I was the Person that Buried those two Persons that lay for ye space of 48 years in the Moss and afterwards were taken up and brought to the parish Church of Hope in the county of Derby to have Christian Burial which is about 34 years since; I had the curiosity myself to go to the place and see ’em taken up, and at the same time took hold of the Man’s great toe and do affirm that it was solid and firm and so were all those parts of the Body which were never exposed to the air by being gazed upon. Given under my hand this first day of May 1758
T Wormald, Vicar of Hope
NB Those two Persons were supposed to be laid in the Moss 23 years before I was born.