Experts astonished by mysterious coffin body found in Fred West village
Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Communities
A body discovered inside a church memorial has astonished the world of archaeology and amazed experts.
Sculpture conservator Michael Eastham had been working on the memorial in a Herefordshire church for nearly two years when he found a mysterious coffin jammed inside a tomb-chest.
“We could not work out what it was when we first took the stone panels from the front of the memorial,” said Michael. “We thought it might be a layer of slate but as we explored further we realised it was a lead coffin. It’s the first time in more than 30 years as a conservator that this has ever happened.”
Mr Eastham, who has worked in buildings all over the UK, removed the lead coffin for examination from the Grandison Memorial in St Bartholomew’s Church at Much Marcle, the Herefordshire village where serial killer Fred West buried some of his victims.
It was first thought that the coffin had been hidden during the construction of the tomb in the late 14th century or possibly even added at a later date.
However, it is now thought that it is almost certainly the coffin and remains of Blanche Mortimer, whose memorial it is, wife of Sir Peter Grandison and daughter of the 1st Earl of March, Roger Mortimer.
The tomb is crowned by an effigy of Blanch Mortimer, which journalist Simon Jenkins has described as “an image as lovely as any bequeathed by a medieval church”.
Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, noted for his factual descriptions of the country’s churches and their artefacts, said of Blanche Mortimer: “The head is strikingly beautiful, eyes closed and lips slightly parted. Beautiful hands with long fingers…moreover the most surprising demonstration of realism in the way the train of her long skirt hangs down over the tomb-chest.”
Until the discovery of the body, it was believed that memorials were built over or close to where the body had been buried under the floor of the church. Sometimes memorials were built or at least work started before the person had died.
Michael Eastham said the best bit of his work was in not dealing with bodies - a view his extraordinary discovery has forced him to question. The coffin has been returned to where it came from but with stainless steel supports inserted.
“St Bartholomew’s is a stunning church anyway, the building dating from the early 13th century,” said Paddy Benson, the Archdeacon of Hereford. “We felt that keeping as good a record as we can for future generations would be worthwhile because if Michael Eastham has done his work well it could be another seven hundred years before anyone gets a chance to look inside again.”
Blanche Mortimer was born around 1316 at Wigmore Castle in Herfordshire, the youngest and 11th child of Sir Roger Mortimer, Earl of March and Joan de Geneville, heiress of Trim & Ludlow.
She became the wife of Peter de Grandison (who is buried in Hereford Cathedral) whom she predeceased in 1347. They had one son, Otto.