Personal memories can be handed down through many generations and offer a fascinating, almost first hand glimpse into specific moments in human history. Local man Jack Cockburn recalls a grim incident involving body snatchers, or ‘resurrectionists’ on both sides of his family, around the early 19th century.

Body snatchers and grave robbers were at large in the 1700s and 1800s, looking for recently dead cadavers to sell on for anatomical research.

Jack’s great, great, grandfather, on his father’s side, lived in Duns and he describes how one night, around midnight, there was a knock on the door. His great, great, grandmother opened it, ‘course she’d heard no-one approaching on the pavement or on the road’ but her husband quickly slammed it shut as he had noticed outside that the cart’s wheels were wrapped in cloth and the horses hooves were muffled, perhaps signs of this dark trade. Jack then recalls how his great, great, grandfather on his mother’s side sat up for days at the old Preston churchyard guarding the grave of his grandfather, from being exhumed. As this churchyard went out of use around 1718, this family story could date from the early 1700s.

The School of Scottish Studies at Edinburgh University has captured hundreds of memories, folklore, songs, music, traditions and stories from local people across Scotland and beyond, since 1930. This interview with Jack Cockburn was recorded in 1966 by Alan J Bruford.

Listen to the full story here:

Cockburn, John W, School of Scottish Studies Archive SA1966.19.B6, Tobar an Dualchais/Kist o Riches,, accessed 7 March 2020