Staked Through the Heart and Buried at the Crossroads – The Profane Burial of Suicides

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Yorkshire Photo Walks (Tom Marsh/CC BY 2.0), and Grey Lady. (CC BY 2.0); Deriv.

Staked Through the Heart and Buried at the Crossroads – The Profane Burial of Suicides

I uncovered a curious tale about a scrubby patch of land while writing a book on the folklore and history of East Anglia. Marked on modern maps as Lushbush, you pass it heading eastwards out of the South Norfolk town of Harleston, England.

A Stake Through the Heart

The name is derived from a willow tree (or it may have been a hawthorn) that as long ago as 1668 was known as Lush’s Bush. According to local legend, the ‘bush’ is supposed to have germinated and sprung from the wood stake that was hammered through the heart of a murderer and suicide, called Lush, who was buried in this location. No, the late Mister Bush was not thought to be a vampire, however in the 17th century it was common practice to bury all murderers (suicides were classed as self-murderers) on unconsecrated ground— and then stake them through the heart to prevent their unhappy spirits from troubling the living.

It may sound primitive but the practice continued for many years, with the last such burial at Lushbush being recorded in April 1813. According to a report that subsequently appeared in the Norfolk Chronicle: a woman called Mary Turrell poisoned herself after being accused of killing her newly-born daughter. The inquest on Turrell recorded a verdict of felo de se (self-murder) and “on the same evening about seven o’clock she was buried in the high road with a stake driven through her body in the presence of a vast concourse of people.”

Suicides were considered self-murder.

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