Britain’s Trade in Bones

It was a post on a Facebook history site that first got me interested in this. Since then I have read more and written a scene in my latest book about it. Yesterday  another blog I follow had an article dated 1817 about a contraband seizure in Grimsby on some cloth hidden among a cargo of “bone rubbish”.

I can just imagine the hands thrown up in horror today about such a story. It would be headline news. Why? you ask. Well that “bone rubbish” were the bones of soldiers who fought across Europe during the Napoleonic wars. 

Britain’s trade in bones went on through the whole century. It was worth millions of pounds in today’s money. What did they use it for? The bones went to Doncaster to be ground up for fertiliser to be put on agricultural land. Bones from battles, bones from the overflowing graveyards of London, bones from Egyptian archaeological sites.

A soldier was worth more dead than alive. First they would strip the bodies of clothes and boots, then teeth were extracted. The bodies were left to rot until years later when they were gathered up and sent to east coast ports for this valuable trade. We have all heard how bone meal can improve soil. I just never thought it might be the remains of my ancestors. To read more visit this fascinating article.

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About Rosemary Noble

Writer, author, amateur historian and traveller
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