Ayr Auld Kirk| Ayrshire

Ayr Auld Kirk|Ayrshire

Ayr Auld Kirk Mortsafe

There aren’t many churches that can boast owning an iron mortsafe – let alone have it hanging proudly on the walls of the Lychgate for you to see as you enter.

Painted to within an inch of its life with black paint, the iron mortsafe bolted to the walls of Ayr’s lychgate, at Kirk Port is truly a thing to behold.

Used during the 19th century in an attempt to keep the bodies of your loved ones safe from the stealing grasp of the resurrection men, this particular example bears the date 1816.

Discovering Ayr’s Iron Mortsafe

The mortsafe found at Ayr is perhaps the most common type of ‘safe’ to have survived.

Although there were no blueprints to follow when creating mortsafes, it was generally thought that a design such as this, proved to be most effective.

The two halves of the mortsafe would fit securely around the coffin and be bolted into place using iron rods similar to those used with the mortsafe that can be found at Bolton, East Lothian.

Lower Half Mortsafe, Ayr, Auld Kirk, Ayrshire
Upper Half Mortsafe, Ayr, Auld Kirk, Ayrshire

Although I have yet to find any body snatching cases particular to Ayr itself, the threat would certainly still have been real. Situated just short of 38 miles from Glasgow, bodies would have been a welcome commodity at the city’s anatomy schools

Quite often you see body snatching prevention being introduced in parishes if their neighbours have been targeted by body snatchers.

Similarly, preventative measures were also put into place to act as a deterrent in the hope that the resurrection men would avoid their church altogether.

This type of design is the style that belongs to a parish rather than the simpler designs that individuals would have purchased.

Parishioners would have paid weekly ‘subs’, either to the church directly or more probably to a Mortsafe Society similar to the East Anstruther Mortsfafe Society in Fife.

Depositing just a few pence per week, the parishioners became safe in the knowledge that when they died, they too would be able to use the parish mortsafe.

Taking a Trip to the Auld Kirk

If you’re visiting Ayr Auld Kirk (St John The Baptist), then there’s plenty to see in the graveyard once you’ve admired the mortsafe. The pictures above show a very intricately carved gravestone that, if memory serves me correctly, is just on the right as you walk through the lychgate.

Other gravestones of interest are peppered throughout the site which leads right to the waters edge of the River Ayr.

It’s a few year since I’ve visited the site at Ayr and as I head toward the west coast of Scotland next year, I hope to be putting another visit at the top of my list.

I've been researching the macabre world of body snatching since 2005 when I looked at the topic in depth for my Under Grad dissertation. Since then, I've been absolutely fascinated by this often forgotten side of Britain's history.