Thursday, June 9, 2011

June 17, 1875 --- Coffins of Wicker

A curious crowd gathers at Stafford House in London seat of the Duke of Sutherland. His Grace has opened his grounds to Seymour Haden, proponent of the "Earth to Earth"' movement.

In a series of lengthy letters to The Times, Haden has proposed that heavy wooden or metal coffins be replaced with, in effect, wicker baskets. Haden believes that coffins promote the "pestiferous accumulation of unresolvable animal matter" and the purifying earth is "prevented from exercising its function and condemned to become as putrid as the horror it hides." Several demonstration baskets are on display, meeting Haden's criteria: (1) the mesh is as open as consistent with strength, (2) no more solid wood than necessary, (3) what wood is used is willow, white or stained, with no preservatives, and (4) a lead band is inserted to hold the body in place and to be engraved with the identity of the deceased.

The ladies and gentlemen on hand - presentation of an ordinary visiting card is required for admittance - "eagerly questioned" Haden as to his "perishable coffins." By his calculations, Haden estimates that if his theories are generally adopted, then only 2000 (reusable) acres would be required to bury all the corpses in England. His firm, the London Necropolis Company, however, must run against the tide of the Victorian fancy for elaborate funerals (encouraged, obviously by Haden's despised undertakers) and the increasing interest of cremation. The Times, while generally supportive, correctly predicted that Haden's movement "will soon be superceded by the next new thing which engages the attention of the public."

The Royal College of Physicians wrote off Haden's brief influence as an "indication of a low state of public. intelligence." Haden lived on until 1910. While his theory never gained widespread acceptance, an obituary noted that he continued to experiment with animals on his estate in Hampshire, in fact, "it formed one of the hobbies of his declining years."

Sketch from The Graphic

No comments:

Post a Comment