Bog Body in Doncaster!

 We are very fortunate in Doncaster in having several major historical documents which give a fascinating insight into the past history of the area. Abraham de la Pryme writing and researching in the latter part of the 17th and early 18th wrote extensively about the huge changes caused by the drainage of the levels, his work was picked up on by George Stovin who is featured in this edition of the newsletter. I had heard of Stovin and had even quoted from his work but I had never realised the detail with which he described the Amcotts woman and the startlingly cavalier way in which he treated the remains. I also never knew that three other bog bodies had been discovered in the days when peat digging by hand was the norm. One must wonder how many other bog bodies have been chewed up in the last fifty years of mechanical digging. The cover picture is of the sandal found on the Amcotts woman and the only remains of this important discovery which remain. The sandal dates her to the 1st century AD. The depth at which she was found may indicate that she fell into a creek as no sign of injury was reported by Stovin.

An introduction from South Yorkshire Archaeological journal 1878

George Stovin

George Stovin, antiquarian and writer of the Stovin manuscript the eldest son of James Stovin, esq., of Tetley, in the parish of Crowle, in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, and was born about 1695 or 1696. Before the death of his father in 1735, he married Sarah, daughter and heiress of James Empson, esq., of Gowle, or Goole, in the former county, he appears not to have been brought up to any profession, but to have led the life of a. country gentleman, which afforded him abundant leisure to follow the topographical and antiquarian researches to which from early life he was addicted. He took a considerable interest in the drainage and other general affairs of the Level of Hatfield Chase, in and about the neighbourhood of which he had inherited, on the decease of his father, a good patrimonial estate Mr. Stovin would, no doubt have heard from his father and his other older relations many curious and interesting stories about the previous state of the Levels,2 when the greater portion of that country consisted largely of extensive meres, turf and, bogs, and swamps, and when the unrestricted overflowings of the Trent, the Aire, the Ouse, and the Went, rendered the district thereabouts almost unfit for the residence or the labours of man.

We can imagine him, listening with no small interest to the popular and traditional stories communicated to hint by the ancient regarders and keepers in the Chase, who, in their turn, would have received the like from their forefathers. The last hunt on Thorne Mere especially exciting and amusing to him, we can fancy, would be, for instance, such an account as we have of the semiaquatic deer hunt in these levels, when Henry Prince of Wales is stated to have visited that part of Yorkshire in 1609, whereat his royal highness and his retinue turned out at Tudworth, for the chase, not on sprightly steeds, with hound and horn, but attended by a numerous assemblage, they embarked themselves in about one hundred boats, and having had driven from out the neighbouring woods and grounds some five hundred deer, which took to the waters, the little navy of sportsmen pursued their game into T horne Mere, and there some of the party going into the water, and feeling such and such that were the fattest, either instantly cut their throats, or drew them by ropes to land and killed them. With a day’s work such as this (the last time that there was any royal sporting in this Chase), the prince is said to have been ” very merry and well pleased.”‘

Sir Cornelius Vermuyden

Mr. Stovin would learn also from the older class of his acquaintance various anecdotes respecting Sir Cornelius Vermuyden and his Dutch and French partners, or participants as they were usually termed, in the grand scheme of drainage for which they left their native country to engage in ; and he would be told of the ill blood that their proceedings stirred up, and the serious disturbances thereby provoked, terminating frequently in loss of life and property to many. There being in those times no local newspapers or periodical magazines, the stirring events of the period had to be recorded, as best they might be, in the memories of the inhabitants, and by them handed down, either verbally or in written memoranda, to their posterity. The observant Abraham De la Pryme, who died when Stovin was about nine years old, left behind him a good store of local information regarding those levels, and of these written collections Stovin afterwards availed himself much. It is related of Mr. Stovin that he scarcely ever left the Levels, living in Crowle and its vicinity. In the latter part of his life, however, he crossed the Trent, to live at Winterton. There He spent the concluding years of his long life, living, as one who knew hill) well informed Mr Hunter, in a little cottage which he had made Arcadian with honeysuckles and other flowers, where he was to be seen with his pipe every morning at five, and there he was accustomed to amuse his neighbours with the variety of anecdotes with which his memory supplied him. He died in May, 1750, aged about 85 years, and was buried in the chancel of Winterton church. Stovin contributed to the Gentleman’s magazine` an account of Lindholme, a remarkable isolated place in the turf-moor of Hatfield ; and to the Royal Society he made several communications of that were printed in their Transactions. Besides these, he left many notes of Roman roads and stations in the counties of York and Lincoln, the result of his personal observation.

His topographical collections is a quarto volume, in size about eight by seven inches, bound in rough calf, containing 458 pages, closely written, consisting chiefly of transcripts of all documents he could obtain which in any way related to the drainage, together with extracts from law books detailing the powers and duties of Courts of Sewers, &c. To these Stovin prefixed the brief account of Vermuyden’s costly proceedings in the drainage of the Level of Hatfield Chase, which, by the favour of this Society, is now printed in the writer’s own style and language, and thus, it is hoped, rendered secure from the risk of loss to which manuscripts of importance are too frequently exposed.”

The contents of this volume, probably in some better digested and more carefully arranged ,it seems to have been Stovin’s intention to give to the public, for at the end of the manuscript lie has sketched out a summary of the contents of it, with “Proposals for printing by subscription, in one volume, folio, with marginal notes, The History of the Drainage of the Great Level of Hatfield Chase, in the counties of York, Lincoln, and Nottingham ; by George Stovin, Esq., near forty years an acting Commissioner of Sewers in the said Level.” The price was to be a guinea, in. sheets, or handsomely bound and lettered ; but the design was abandoned, probably for want of encouragement. The ground-work and main outline of the history, however, was in after years taken up and enlarged upon by the learned historian of ” South Yorkshire,” with that ability of composition and clearness of construction for which his works are so justly remarkable, and which will accord him a place in the front rank of topographical writers to the end of time.

This draft document might well have been lost but was found at the back of a cupboard of a Doncaster’s solicitors in the 1870s and formed the basis of the article in the SYAS journal. 

An extract from the Stovin manuscript: 

These moors, or Thorne Waste, is of great extent, being twenty five miles round; in the midst of which has been a Lodge for one of the keepers of this famous chase. It affords turbary to Croul in Lincolnshire, Eastoft, Haldenby, Folkerby, Adlingfleet, Ousefleet, Goule, Hooke, Ayremin, Rawcliff in Marshland, Snaith, Sykehouse, Fishlake, , in the county of York. And upon this waste is plenty of game, as hares, partridge, black moorgame, ducks, geese, curlews, snipes, foxes, dc. it affords plenty of cranberries, and an odoreferous shrub called Gale ; some call it Sweet willow, or Dutch myrtle. And here I cannot omit to mention that the inhabitants of Thorne far exceed all their neighbours in their care and industry, for they have had the art to get estates out of fish-ponds ; to make terra firma of pools and stagnated waters ; to plough with horses, where a man, a hundred years ago, could not walk nor stand. In short, to get good corn, meadow, and pasture land, where there was none before. As a confirmation of this country being nothing but water, there was, in the parish and liberty of`Thorne only, fifty-three copiehold fishings held of the lord of the manor of Hatfield by certain rents, and also many copiehold fishings held of the lords of the manor of Epworth, Crowl, and Wroot. None of the inhabitants of the other towns who have a right upon this Waste could or would as yet follow so good an example as the Thorne people have set them. It is chiefly the inhabitants of Thorne that have changed the face of the country, and that has got estates out of the deepest pools of water ; converted moor and moss into dry land, and out of quagmires and bottomless pits raised meadows, pastures, and cornfields. And as it may be natural for the reader to enquire how all this was perfected, I shall inform him as well as I can. .-’This was their method and industrious care, viz., every inhabitant that had right of common and turbary in this parish, by agreement had the moor measured in breadth next to Thorne common, and they computed how many yards broad would fall to each common-right house. When this was done, every person had his equal breadth next Thorne common to the west, and so was to cut to the east (each man as fair as lie could) ; they begun to cut drains betwixt each others moor ; the turf(‘ that came out paying for the labour, and betwixt those dykes they graved their turf. But they graved it to the very bottom, until they came to the natural soil, which in many places is good strong clay, sand, &c. ; and so every year cleared as much of it as they could sell or burn for fuel. So that now they have got from twenty to forty and fifty acres each of good firm land, and still pursue the game. And upon this new found land is planted oaks, elm, ash, willows, thorns, &c., which grow exceeding well. They are every year improving and draining this Waste, that in the same number of years that is past since the first drainage to this time, they may and possibly will gain as much more land as they have already gotten, and so on for some ages to come; for there is no other town that opposes them, or makes any improvement. And they having no known bounds between them, the Thorne people will go on until their spades clash against the spade of the inhabitants of the towns above mentioned, almost at their own doors. This great Waste is of the same nature with that called Hatfield Waste, and both of them , as also all the low grounds and Commons in Hatfield Chase, is a sort of subterraneous forest which is dug up daily, as oak, fir, &c. 1 have known an oak tree taken up that afforded a thousand pales five foot and a half long, and from six to seven inches broad, for which I paid ten shillings a hundred, besides several loads of firewood. Fir trees have been found under-ground above thirty yards long, and yet wanting many yards at the small end, and have been sold for masts for ships from 4, 8, 10, to 15 pounds a piece. Some have been found chopped and squared, some bored through ; some burned through on one side ; some half riven with great wooden wedges in them, and broken axe heads, somewhat like sacrificial axes in shape. Under a tree near Hatfield was found 8 or 9 Roman coins. Mr. Edward Canby, found an oak tree 40 yards long, 4 yards in diameter at the great end, 3 yards one foot in the middle, two yards over at the small end ; so that the tree seems to have been as long again ; for which he was offered twenty pounds. 

The bog bodies.

 A man was found in Thorn moors lying at his length with his head upon his arm, as in a common posture of sheep, whose skin being tanned, as it were, with the moor water, preserved his shape entire. About sixty years ago, or seventy, the servants of ‘Mr. James Empson, of Gowle, was digging turf in this great Waste, and one of them cut a man’s arm off by the shoulder, which he carried home to his master, who took the bone out and stuffed it, and made a, present of it to Dr. Johnson,” of York, all antiquarian. This was the very hand and arm mentioned by Dr. Gibson, late bishop of London in his Translation of Camden’s Brittania, in the additions to the West Riding of Yorkshire. And in June 1747, in theneighbouring moors, and on thesaid Levil, in the moors belonging to Amcotts, was found by John Tate of Amcotts, who was digging turf, the entire body of a woman. He first cut of one of her feet with his spade, on which was a sandal ; but frightened he left it. I being informed of it, went with Thomas fect, my gardener, and others, and we took up the whole body ; there was a sandal on the other foot ; the skin was like a piece of tanned leather, and it stretched like a fine doe skin ; the hair was fresh about the head and privy parts, which distinguished the sex ; the teeth firm ; the bones was black ; the flesh consumed ; and she lay upon her side in -a bending posture, with her head and toes almost together, which looked as thoughshe had been hurled down by the force of some strong current of water; and though a great part of this moor had been formerly graved off she lay seven foot deep from the present surface. I took the skin of one arm, from the elbow to the hand, and shaking the bones out, it would have made a ladies’ muff. The other hand not being cut with the spade, as we dug for it, I preserved it, and stuffed it, first taking out the bones, which my son, James Stovin, now has in his possession, at Doncaster. And what is very remarkable, the nails are firm and fast on the fingers. He also has one of the sandals, which was made of one whole piece of a raw hide, and only one short seam at the heel, sowed with a thong of the same leather. The sandals had ten loops cut in the whole leather on each side, and ten small loops at the toe, which caused to the toe of the sandal to draw up like the mouth of a purse. They were laced on, upon the top of the foot, with a thong of the same leather. This lady’s skin and the sandals were both tanned by the black water, for there being such great quantities of oak, firs, and other wood hurried in these moors, the water is by them tinctured and made exactly of the colour of the modern tan fatt water, and the firr having so much resenous matter in it, no doubt that helps to preserve these bodies for so many ages, for that they have laid some hundreds of years. 

I have the assent of that learned body, the Royal Society, for in September 1747, I sent the hand and sandal above mentioned to that learned body with the same account (or to the same purpose I have here given),and when they returned it, I was honoured with their thanks by letter, and their opinion was that “they must have laid there many hundred years ; for the sandals were worn in England about the conquest, yet they could not find they were of the make or shape of this above mentioned, but concluded it must be much ancienter than that period.” I buried the remains of this lady in Amcots chapel yard, I showed the hand and sandal to my worthy friend Thomas Whichcot, of Harpswell, esq. knight of the shire for the county of Lincoln in parliament, who was pleased to put the sandal on before I sent them to the Royal Society. 

At Thorne, in these moors, about ten years ago, as one William Biddy, of Thorne, was digging turf, he found the entire body of a man with his teeth firm in his head ; the hair of his head firm and fast on, and of a yellowish colour, either naturally so or dyed by the water of this moor. His skin like a piece of tanned leather. He took the body up entire, after having laid there some hundred years. N.B.-I had this account from the man himself. I also think: proper to mention that the servants of Mr. George Healey, of Burringham, on the east side Trent, and near this Levil, was digging tip firewood in a large moor belonging to Burringham, and at the bottom of a fir tree root they found (as though laid together) a British spear, a British axe, and two short swords or dirks, all of brass, which Mr. Healey made a present off, and which I now have by me.

 Bogs and bodies

 Among the many objects that came to rest in the wet boglands, there are some that provide exceptionally detailed information about the past. This is because they were deliberately deposited directly into water under circumstances that assured their survival. The best examples of this phenomenon are the bog bodies. Bogs can be treacherous places and it is likely that some of the bodies found in the peat were those of travellers who slipped into bog pools and were trapped. Some ancient bodies found in the peat were supposedly found clutching heather or sticks as if attempting to haul themselves out. Other bodies found in bogs are deliberate burials. In Germany the bodies of a man, woman and child were found in a bog. They were fully clothed and laid upon animal hides, with bunches of flowers placed upon the bodies. In Northern Ireland a woman’s body was discovered in Drumkeeragh Bog in Co. Down in 1780. She was dressed in a woollen costume. Fragments of the clothing are in the National Museum. Sometimes strangers who died in rural communities in the Middle Ages were buried in unconsecrated ground, and so were women who died in childbirth. 

Many bog bodies have been found in Denmark and Britain, some a few thousand years old. Over 80 bog bodies have been discovered in Ireland since 1750. Many of these bodies were never examined in detail and most were reburied without study or were badly damaged. The majority of the bodies date to late Medieval times although some date to the Iron age.

Gallagh bog body

A body found in 1821 at Gallagh, near Castleblakeney, Co. Galway and was radiocarbon dated to 2,040 years old, indicating that it belonged to the Iron Age. The body of a man lay at a depth of 3m in the bog. It was clothed in a deer skin cape which extended as far as the knees. It lay on its left side, slightly flexed at the waist and knees. The cape was tied at the neck with a band of willow rods. At each side of the body a wooden stake was placed at an angle. Each post was about 2m long and pointed apparently with a hatchet. The body was reburied and dug up several times to show people and it was not until 1829 that it was finally removed from the bog and presented to the National Museum. Reconstruction drawing of the bog burial at Gallagh, Co. Galway. (Courtesy of the National Museum of Ireland) It was not conserved at that time because the technology of freeze-drying which is used today had not been invented. The body was allowed to dry out, so that it has shrunk and the hair and stubbly beard have largely disappeared and only a few scraps of the cape survive. The presence of wooden stakes prove that this was a deliberate burial as this practice is known from Denmark, and is part of a ritual to pin the body firmly into the bog. 

Lindow man 

Maybe Andy Mould had a special knack that most people don’t have. Or maybe it was just a coincidence. But in 1983 and then again in 1984, he found human remains in an English peat bog known as Lindow Moss. The first time, he had found the head (mostly a skull with little skin or brain remaining) of a woman. A year later, on August 1, 1984, he was working with Eddie Slack, placing blocks of peat onto an elevator that would transport them to a shredding mill, when he looked at one block of peat and noticed what he thought was a piece of wood embedded in it. He threw it toward Eddie but it struck the ground and crumbled, revealing a human foot. Without hesitation, Andy reported his disturbing find, and shortly the police arrived. With Andy and Eddie’s help, they located the area of the bog where the foot had been found. There, on the surface, was a flap of darkened skin belonging to what was later called Lindow Man. They covered it with wet peat until scientists could be summoned to view the body. Five days later, in the presence of several paleobotanists and a biologist, the block of peat containing Lindow Man was cut, placed on a sheet of plywood, and transported to a local hospital. There, the authorities attempted to date the remains. After all, no one knew if Lindow Man was a recent murder victim or a man from the past. As it turned out, Lindow Man had died between A.D. 50 and A.D. 100. The scientists learned, when the body was examined, that the man had been murdered. They determined this by examining his body visually and then inspecting x-rays of it. At the same time, they tried to create an image of Lindow man’s appearance. Then they looked inside especially at his stomach to find more clues to the mystery of his death.

Step 1: Examining Lindow Man Visually 

A close visual examination provided obvious clues that Lindow Man had been murdered. Head and neck. First, he had been hit twice on the crown of his head with a blunt object, probably an ax; he had also been struck once at the base of his skull. Second, he had been strangled. Around Lindow Man’s neck was a small rope that had been twisted tightly, closing off his windpipe and breaking two of his neck vertebrae. Finally, scientists found a gash at the throat, which may indicate that his throat was cut, though some scientists think that the wound occurred naturally after his death. If indeed his throat was cut, it was probably done to drain his body of blood. Hair. Scientists discovered some interesting details by looking at Lindow Man’s hair and beard. They were surprised that he had a beard, since no other male bog body had been found with a beard; this was clearly not common at the time he lived. Scientists also learned that someone had trimmed Lindow Man’s hair with scissors two or three days before his death. Historians and archaeologists knew that, although scissors existed in England at the time, they would have been uncommon, most likely reserved for a privileged few. Was the murdered man, they wondered, a dignitary?


Scientists found that his fingernails appeared well-manicured and cared for. They wondered if this showed that he was an important member of society, who was exempt from manual labor. But as Don Brothwell, who studied Lindow Man, explained, no one really knows what the manicured fingernails of a bog person would look like, since no one has ever compared the fingernails of mummies. 


Unfortunately, Lindow Man was naked, except for an arm band made of foxfur and the thin rope around his neck. Without clothes, he could have been a king or laborer. As author Brothwell put it: Why did he have a well-developed, but roughly trimmed, beard – unique among bog bodies – and well-kept nails? Was he an aristocrat fallen on hard times, or a high-born prisoner sacrificed to the gods?

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