Although reported widely in the local press in 1825, in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries York was hit by a sinister problem, that of body snatchers, or resurrectionists. These individuals would dig up freshly buried bodies and take them to sell to medical schools, often in Edinburgh, which made York a prime target as it was on the main coaching route. Friends of Dick Turpin, whose gravestone can still be seen in the churchyard of the now demolished St George Church, had had to rebury his body after an attempt was made to steal it.
St Denys at Walmgate was targeted, a soldier at Fulford was dug up in 1830 and some bodies were stolen from the Archbishop’s Palace at Bishopthorpe. In a bid to try and stop the practice the York Chronicle suggested that sulphuric acid should be poured over the body to make it unusable for medical research.
During the early nineteenth century many families kept watch over fresh graves at night, or made iron casings to cover the grave, but the problem continued, made worse that it wasn’t technically a crime to steal the body, much more to steal the clothes or effects that the body was wearing, hence why many bodies were quickly shed of their clothes.
In April 1832, a gang of body snatchers were though caught and sent to the county assizes after digging up the body of Robert Hudson. The gang had been led by John Craig Hodgson, who was sent to York Castle with William Germain, William Henry Bradley, James Norman and Henry Teale.
Many local residents had feared the new threat, which never actually happened in York, of being murdered and the body sold, and it wasn’t until the 1832 Anatomy Act that the problem of body snatching finally started to disappear.