All burials up until the 19th century were interred in the mother church of a parish, subject to some exceptions. This gave an income to the church and also was subject to certain ceremony, superstition and folklaw.
The church would have a bier, normally a four wheeled vehicle with sides, and a parish coffin which was an oblong box with a lid. These would usually be kept in a little bier house near the church or in a building close by. Some briers can still be seen in churches and are kept as curiosities. Those families who could afford a coffin for the deceased hired the bier only, but those who were poorer and buried their deceased in a shroud, hired the bier and coffin.
This gave rise to a number of coffin ways all across the country. Polesworth was a large parish which contained a number of hamlets and all of these would have had a coffin trail. The only one left for certain is the one from Dordon.
The deceased would be taken at night along the coffin trail to the church as burials were for many centuries undertaken in darkness. This would take the form of a procession with men with lanterns at the front, followed by others pulling the bier with the mourners bringing up the rear. Folklaw has it that if a group of people were near the route and only one person saw the (presumably ghostly) procession; they would be the next to die.
Between 1666 and 1814 all corpses had to be wrapped in a woollen shroud, so it was the priests’ job to inspect the corpse to ensure this was complied with. This would be done at the lychgate at many churches, but at Polesworth possibly at the Gatehouse in High Street.
Today the coffin trail from Dordon is a pleasant walk. From Polesworth you enter the only remaining part of the way from the end of Common Lane past the new development and carry on until you come out in Dunns Lane, Dordon.
By Margaret Henley
Chair, Polesworth History Project Group