Page:History and characteristics of Bishop Auckland.djvu/112

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The law by which this singular custom was brought about, was passed in the reign of Charles II., in the year 1677; and in the "Statutes at Large" of that period is thus described:—


1. Whereas, an Act, made in the eighteenth year of his Majesty's reign that now is, intituled, "An Act for Burying in Woollen only," was intended for the lessening the importation of linen from beyond the seas, and the encouragement of the woollen and paper manufactures of this kingdom, had the same been observed; but, in respect, there was not sufficient remedy thereby given for the discovery and prosecution of offences against the said law, the same hath hitherto not had the effect thereby intended.

2. For remedy whereof, be it enacted, by the King's most excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords spiritual and temporal, and Commons in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same. That the said Act, and all the clauses and provisoes therein, shall be and are hereby annulled and repealed to all intents, constructions, and purposes whatsoever.

3. And it is hereby enacted, by the authority aforesaid, That, from and after the first day of August, one thousand, six hundred and seventy-eight, no corpse of any person, or persons, shall be buried in any shirt, shift, sheet or shroud, or anything whatsoever made or mingled with flax, hemp, silk, hair, gold, or silver, or in any stuff or thing other than what is made of sheep's wool only, or be put in any coffin lined or faced with any sort of cloth or stuff, or any other thing whatsoever, that is made of any material but sheep's wool only, upon pain of the forfeiture of five pounds of lawful money of England, to be recovered and divided as is hereafter, in this Act, expressed and directed.

The Act further directs, "that all persons in holy orders, within their respective parishes, keep a register of all persons buried within their parishes or precincts, or in such common burial ground as their respective parishioners are usually buried in, and that some creditable person shall, within eight days after the interment, bring an affidavit, in writing, under the hands and seals of two or more creditable witnesses, and under the hand of the magistrate, or officer, before whom the same was sworn, certifying that the law had been strictly complied with. And, in the event of it not being done, the goods and chattels of the party deceased should be seized and sold to the amount of the forfeiture of five pounds, to be levied by warrant of the Chief Magistrate, or, in default, by like distress and sale of the goods and chattels of the person in whose house the said party died, or any that had a hand in putting such person into such shirt, &;c., contrary to the Act." If the person was a servant, then the master or mistress was liable; and this fine was obtainable before any debt or legacy, or any other obligation whatever, could be obtained from the estate of the deceased, or those who might render themselves liable. Exception was, however, made for persons dying of the plague. The Minister was, also, subject to a like penalty in case of failing to give notice to the churchwardens, as were also the churchwardens in not giving notice to the magistrate of any case of non-fulfilment of the requirements of the law. The magistrate was, also, subject to the same penalty in not acting upon such information given, and issuing his warrant for levying the said forfeiture: the information and suit to be given and commenced within six months after the offence shall be committed. One-fourth part of the forfeiture was to be given for the use of his Majesty, two other fourth parts were to be given to the poor of the parish, and the other fourth part given to the person who should inform and sue for the same A return had, also, to be made by the overseers, to the magistrates at the Quarter Sessions, of all burials within their respective parishes. And it was further enacted, by the authority aforesaid, "That, from and after the said first day of August, the said Judges, at their respective Assizes, and the Justices of the Peace, at their respective Quarter Sessions, shall give this Act in charge; and, moreover, that this Act shall be publicly read upon the first Sunday after the Feast of St Bartholomew every year for seven years next following, presently after Divine service."

We have no information in the Registers respecting the working of this curious old law. There is only one entry (already given) in which we have any record of its violation. The entries of the "Tests," however, had ceased about seven years previous, so that the inference drawn from this would seem to be that the custom of burying in woollen had continued even