CORPSE ROADS

General observations on corpse ways are made in the Encyclopaedia of Superstitions (E &,V M Radford, Hutchinson, 1948: edited and revised by Christina Dole, 1961), and they are brought to out. attention by CHRIS FLETCHER:

"A very widespread belief, still far from extinct, is that if a corpse is carried over private land, its passage establishes a right of way for ever.
"In most old parishes. the customary road or path taken by funerals is known as the Church Road, or sometimes the Corpse Way, or Corpse Gate. In the centre of the parish, this might he the ordinary hard road. but funerals from outlying farms or hamlets might have to travel over a path running for at least part of the way over moors or fields. Such a path was never ploughed over, but stood out clearly, hard and dry, and wide enough to allow the bearers to carry the coffin without difficulty. It was formerly considered very unlucky to use any other route, and likely to prevent the dead man from resting in his grave. Great efforts were sometimes necessary to adhere to the Chruch Road in bad weather if it led over wild country, but usually these were willingly made. Atkinson describes in his Glossary of the Cleveland District (1868) how on one occasion the bearers had to struggle through a most impassable masses of snow in order to follow the traditional road over the high moors; and in Scatchard's History of Morley (1874) we are told that the people of Walton, near Wakefield, resolutely refused to use a much more convenient route to Sandal Church because a certain path over a field was the established Corpse Gate."

The book points out that the idea of a right of way being established by the carriage of a corpse "has no actual foundation in English law".