In this documentary British art historian and BBC television presenter Dan Cruickshank takes us back to Victorian times as he investigates the circumstances and rituals which surrounded death at the time. By examining the fate of five apparently unrelated corpses Cruickshank manages to uncover a tale of bizarre extremes.
We learn of bodysnatching and how it was commonplace at the time for bodies to go missing from their graves. Although the inner-city graveyards themselves were so overcrowded that one could see the limbs of the dead protruding from the freshly dug earth.
This overcrowding was down to the fact that a tomb located in one of the great new cemeteries could cost as much as a terrace of houses in East London, and the practice of cremation was also frowned upon and considered ‘heathenish’. Reform with regards to Victorian ideals about death and the afterlife did not occur until the violence of WWI forced a new way of thought.