Sickness and Death

Coffins with A-shaped lids

Ivor Nöel Hume writes about three flat sided coffins with peaked or A-shaped lids found during his archeological survey of Martin’s Hundred.1 Dr. Norman Barka,2 later found remnants of two coffined burials and evidence of their A-shaped lids at the Flowerdew Hundred, Virginia archeological survey. Mr. Hume also notes an 1651 engraving of English gravediggers and coffins with A-shaped lids (below).

1651 English engraving; coffins with A-shaped 

Mr. Hume credits a late eighteenth folklore enthusiast, John Brand, with the answer to the question about A-shaped coffin lids.
“Brand’s.3 notes titled ‘Pall and Under Bearers’ describe how, in the seventeenth century, each English parish possessed three of four mortuary cloths of differing materials and qualities, to be rented by mourning families to cover the coffin on the way to the grave.”
We easily see (below) how the display of the mortuary cloth was enhanced by an A-shaped coffin.

English Pall Bearers


1. Hume, Ivor Nöel, Martin’s Hundred, Alfred A. Knopf, 1979-1982, pp. 37-38

2. Ibid, p. 76.

3. Ibid, p. 78.

Return to: Project Home Page

Page © 2002 Fred Smoot