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

Preston Church by Brian Edwards. Image by Brian Edwards.
Preston Churchyard photos by Brian Edwards. Image by Brian Edwards.
Illustration of body snatchers or 'resurrection men'. Public Domain.

Listen to the story on Tobar an Dualchais/Kist o Riches below. McGaw, W, School of Scottish Studies Archive SA1972.154, Tobar an Dualchais/Kist o Riches,, accessed 7 March 2020.

Tobar an Dualchais/Kist o Riches is a collaborative project which has been set up to preserve, digitise, catalogue and make available online several thousand hours of Gaelic and Scots recordings. This website contains a wealth of material such as folklore, songs, music, history, poetry, traditions, stories and other information. The material has been collected from all over Scotland and beyond from the 1930s onwards. The recordings come from the School of Scottish Studies (University of Edinburgh), BBC Scotland and the National Trust for Scotland's Canna Collection.

If you're interested in researching people buried in Old Preston or other local graveyards you can contact the Borders Family History Society:

Preston Old Parish Church and Graveyard was in use from around 1100 until 1718 when the parish united with Bunkle. Its walls are thought to have survived due to conversion to family burial vaults. Find out more on Canmore, the online site of the National Record of the Historic Environment:

The new parish kirk was built at Bonkyl in 1820:

Previous story

Next story