The traditional medieval death-roads, or corpse-roads, ending at cemeteries, echo far earlier pagan concepts associated with spirit-paths and shamanic soul-flight. When reviewing medieval burial custumal we come across the -->'burial right', implemented by the ruling church. The burial right appears to have given rise to the laying-out of some medieval corpse roads, illustrated by the following example from England.
The church of St Peter and Paul at Blockley, in Gloucestershire, held the burial right to the inhabitants of the hamlets Stretton-on-Fosse, where there was a chapel which became a rectory in the 12th century, and Aston Magna, where there was a chapel which was merely a chantry. All 'tithes' and 'mortuaries', however, came to the parish church of Blockley, to which church the people of Stretton and Aston were committed to carry their deceased for burial.
The corpse road from Aston to Blockley churchyard is over two miles long and crosses three small streams en route. The corpse road from Stretton to Blockley runs for some four miles and crosses two streams. The streams lie in valleys and are liable to flooding. But it was not the difficult routes that had to be traversed, probably since Norman times, to which objections were raised. In 1351, the Bishop of Worcester received a petition from the people of Stretton to allow them to bury their dead at Stretton, by which they would avoid paying the common 'dues and mortuaries' to the church at Blockley. The bishop refused to grant the desired licence, and it was only about the time of the Reformation, that Stretton obtained the burial right. This may have caused this death road to fall into disuse. John Palmer
TLH has investigated these two corpse roads on the ground in hope of reconstructing their routes from surviving roads and tracks. An examination of the OS map allowed us to propose a fairly direct route along currently used motor roads and public footpaths, although not dead straight, certainly not winding. Finding the Stretton corpse road, however was more difficult. There were a number of possibilities, none of which were particularly direct and this search was abandoned until further documentary evidence could be found to chart its lost course successfully. We travelled the proposed route from Aston Magna along an existing motor road which passes through a cross-roads at Draycott. The remains of a (not very ancient) well head can be seen on the verge. At a severe dog-leg in the metalled road we traced the continuation of the path across two fields down hill to where the footpath crosses the road again (after another bend) (Fig1). The next section of road can be seen to have been aligned on the church tower at Blockley (which sits on a hill) (Fig 2). At the village itself the road runs directly to the present day cemetery (an odd coincidence - as this would not have been there when the burial path was in use. From there the route turns left and follows the main village street to the foot of the hill and climbs through the gates to the churchyard. We suspect the original route through the village to have been lost through subsequent enclosure and building, as is often the case.
Danny and Jo-Anne Sullivan