Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Nameless of Irby

The body of a baby abandoned at Addlethorpe last year was buried there in July after a funeral in the local church. Neither the identity of the baby nor that of his mother has been traced. The name Jacob was used. A local businessman met the costs involved, including those of a memorial.

Jacob’s death and burial is just one modern repetition of what we know is really a common story. I’ve been doing a tiny bit of research about an earlier one using the microfilm records in the Grimsby Central Library. The story is that behind the memorial in Irby churchyard to which Rod Collins’ Blog drew attention a short while ago.

There are records of all the burials at Irby between 1813 and 1996 on the microfilm. For only one of these is there no name. It was on 21st February 1888. The Parish Priest recorded:

By Coroners Order for Burial: I reverently committed to the grave the remains of the body of a new born child found in the parish.

With a date established, it was not then too difficult to find an item in the microfilm of the Grimsby News of 24th February 1888:

On Monday, an inquest was held… on... the remains of the body of a newly born child, sex unknown, which was discovered in a green field which belongs to Mr W Nainby on Sunday last. John Vickers, aged 13, in the employ of Mr Nainby stated that he was crossing the green field when he noticed a flock of crows ‘picking at something’… The remains of the body looking as if they had been buried and scratched up by a dog or some animal.

So the discovery (of what had been a shallow grave) was on Sunday 19th , the inquest (in a house in the village) was on Monday 20th , and the burial (with the Coroner’s say so) was on Tuesday 21st.

If the mother (or some other person) had buried the body a good while earlier then decomposition in the ground rather than the pecking of the crows may have been the reason that the sex of the child could not be determined, but they are rather gruesome details.

I remain a little troubled by the memorial stone. ‘Nameless’ seems much more harsh than ‘Unknown’, and possibly untrue. The text ‘Be sure your sin will find you out’ (Numbers 32.23) seems misplaced in seeking to address a third person rather than God or the reader. ‘A child known to God’ and something like ‘To such belongs the Kingdom’ or ‘Nothing can separate us from the love of God’ would somehow be less troubling.

But I realise that not knowing the sex of the child would have been one barrier to giving him or her a name like Jacob, and the person who chose the text would just have had the experience of dealing with the decomposing body of an unknown child.

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