I have been dead certain for sometime that there would once have been corpse roads leading to Lichfield, bringing bodies from the surrounding hamlets and villages to be buried in the consecrated ground of their mother church.
My Scooby sense about their existence eventually translated into something a little more tangible when I found the following reference in the 1819 book, ‘A Short Account of the City and Close of Lichfield’ by Thomas George Lomax, William Newling:
‘By the side of the chapel is Dove house lane once the burial road from the village of Wall now disused’.
Further evidence can be found in the rolls of St George’s Court held on 28th April 1656, which record how Michael Salt was fined 6D for “not making a stile into Dovehouse Field from the Clay Pitts, this being a church way”.
Given that Wall was part of St Michael’s parish, this surely must have been the mother church and the final destination. As to the exact course the corpse road took, I suspect the answers lie buried in old place names. Look out for references to anything church, burial, coffin or corpse related on old maps and documents.
Whilst you’re at it, give some thought to Shenstone too, where in October 1817 the Staffordshire Advertiser carried the following description:
…a certain road, heretofore used as a burial road, beginning at the north-westward end of a Road called the Walk, belonging to Edward Grove Esq, and extending in a north-westwardly direction over an ancient inclosure called Lower Park Field, belonging to Ann Adams, over an ancient Inclosure called New Piece, belonging to said Edward Grove, over an ancient inclosure called Over Park Field, over an ancient inclosure called Upper Park Field, and over an ancient inclosure called Near Park Field, belonging to Ann Adams, to the Birmingham and Lichfield turnpike road, then crossing the said road in a south-westwardly direction to an ancient inclosure called Bull’s Head Piece, then turning in a westwardly direction over the said Bull’s Head Piece and another another ancient inclosure called Church Piece, belonging to Henry Case, Esq.
Elsewhere in the country, numerous stories and superstitions have materialised around these paths where the dead were toted. The general flavour of the folklore associated with these roads involves rituals designed to ensure the spirit of the dead could not escape en-route nor return home. The corpse would be carried feet first and often over water as apparently ghosts can’t cross running water (although I have heard of a spectral passenger hitching a lift in a taxi as it drove over the causeway at Blithbury Reservoir). Despite these rites of passage, there are stories of the supernatural associated with burial routes – phantom funeral processions, corpse candles and headless black dogs are just some of the shady characters to be wary of when travelling the same way as the dead did. If only we knew exactly which way that was….