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Bygone Stanley - The Corpse Way - 1827


A road or footpath was used by the villagers of Stanley for many years on which they carried their dead from Stanley to Wakefield Parish Church burial ground which was in The Springs. This roadway ran in a line to the east of Ouchthorpe Lane to Vicars Lane and had been used for this purpose for many years. It was also used by drovers moving cattle and sheep from the Wakefield Cattle Market to Leeds, although they had not the right to use it for that purpose but they did so because it was a way of evading payment of tolls at Newton Bar on the Leeds Road which was, at that time, a 'Toll Road'.

In 1818 the Stanley Royd Hospital was in use and the Corpse Way passed through the hospital grounds and in 1819 it was reported to the visiting magistrates that the use of this road was considered to be causing problems to the efficiency of the hospital. In an endeavour to remove the nuisance of the Corpse Way users, a committee was set up to consider a means of diverting this road to some other fields which would be clear of the hospital grounds. It would appear that they failed to solve the problem, and the road continued to be used as it had for many years. In 1827 the hospital authorities decided to take action to control the use of this road as a roadway except for the use of carrying corpses for it had been established that there was no right of way. A notice was posted as follows:-


As gates had been erected, in effect the road was closed. The keys to open the gates had to be collected and returned to the asylum. The Stanley villagers were not pleased with this action by the asylum authorities so they broke down the gates in order to take though a corpse.

Now it was the asylum authorities who were annoyed so they had a deep trench dug across the roadwav. When the Stanley inhabitants next needed to use this road to carry a corpse, they broke down the gates and filled in the trench. There were several attempts by the asylum authorities over the next two years to close the road but on each occasion the Stanley inhabitants took the law into their own hands. In a final effort to enforce their rights, the asylum authorities decided to use the weight of the law and the Chief Constable of the Division was asked to take the necessary action to do so.

On the 25th of September 1831, Mr Ledger, Chief Constable of the Division along with his officers faced a mob of approximately 2,000 angry Stanley villagers, many of whom were armed with shovels and pickaxes. The police officers could not prevent the mob from once again breaking down the gates. The Chief Constable took action by taking note of the ringleaders of this mob who were Joseph Ellis, George Hartley, Joseph Hartley, Thomas Crossland, John Brooke, Henry Taylor, John Ball, George Firth, James Woofindale and Benjamin Heald. They were charged with 'creating a riot and disturbance and breaking down fences on the 25 September 1831.' The court hearing, on the 27th September 1831, was disorder and, to some extent, riotous.

However, the bench were a little sympathetic as they were told of a dying man in Stanley who had expressed a wish that his body be carried to the cemetery through the Corpse Way. The defendants were bound over to appear at the Leeds Assizes.

At the Assizes the defendants expressed their regret and they were discharged. The Corpse Way was then closed and there was no further incident.

In 1849 a new part of the hospital was built which covered some part of the Corpse \Vay, but within this building there is a subway which still exists which follows the route of the old, ancient Corpse Way.

Copy of the Accusation : The trial

The magistrates - His Majesty's Justices of Peace - were;-

John Pemberton Heywood and John Armitage on the 27th September 1831.

Who saith, in the presence and hearing of Joseph Ellis, George Hartley, Joseph Hartley, Thomas Crossland, John Brook the elder, Henry Taylor, John Ball, George Firth, James Woofindale and Benjamin Heald, the partys accused by this Deposition, as follows:-

'I was at the Asylum In Stanley cum Wrenthorpe between three and four of the clock in the afternoon of last Sunday. There was a funeral. I saw the several persons above named at the top of the road leading to the north side Of the Asylum. They were all active in pulling down the fence. There was a great concuss of people and when the fence was down the crowd and funeral went down the road in the highway leading from the East Moor to Saint John's spurn before us.'

Signed; J. P. Heywood, J. Armitage, J. F. Ledger.

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