Henry Trigg and the Coffin in the Rafters

Henry Trigg was an eccentric man. A wealthy and successful man. A real character. And undoubtedly, a pain in the rear to his family. At least, after death.

Trigg was a busy man in life. A successful greengrocer and landlord, he was also the local churchwarden and a respected citizen of Stevenage. One evening, after a few alcoholic drinks with workmates, he made his way home, past the churchyard as usual.

As they wound their way past the headstones, they saw flickering lights between the graves and heard muffled activity. As the men crept closer, they peered over the graveyard wall to see men hunched over a freshly dug grave. They weren’t there to grieve, but to steal. They had stumbled across bodysnatchers, so-called ‘resurrectionists’ who would monitor churchyards for fresh burials, before returning under cover of darkness to steal the cadavers and sell them to medical schools for a profit.

Henry and his friends made a vow to avoid the fate of that poor corpse at all costs. They would ensure that after their death, their bodies would never fall into resurrectionist hands. Trigg’s will was complex and odd, but fully legal. He requested that upon his death, his body would be stored in ‘the purlins’ (rafters) of ‘the West end of my Hovel (barn) to be decently laid there upon a floor erected by my Executor…’, namely, that his body would be placed in a coffin and laid to rest in the roof, not committed to the earth. All for a minimum of 30 years.

Trigg’s belief in the resurrection of not just his soul, but his body, was also included in his will, as he believed that he ‘shall receive the same again (life) by the mighty power of God.’ After these 30 years passed, he believed that he would return to life, regain ownership of his estate and continue where he left off. As such, according to Gentleman’s Magazine (1751), he requested that his barn was locked from the inside, with the key placed in his coffin so that he alone could let himself out. Although it does beg the question of who exactly would be locking him in there if he was to be left alone…

Before his death, Trigg had plans to rent out the barn to the local authorities as a workhouse, but hadn’t completed the desired renovations before he slid into his coffin. Nonetheless, when his will came to light, awkward discussions would undoubtedly emerge within the Trigg family. Henry hadn’t married and had no immediate family of his own, save for his brothers and their children. However, if the requirements of his will were not fulfilled, his executor and brother (the Rev. Thomas Trigg) would receive nothing and the will’s requirements would be passed on to the next brother or increasingly distant family member.

Finally fulfilling his request, the Rev. Trigg placed his brother’s body in a lead-lined coffin and had his hoisted into the rafters of his barn at 37 High Street, there to rest for eternity or resurrection, whichever came first.

However, having a relative in the rafters wasn’t to everyone’s taste and in her will of 1769, his niece Ann requested that he finally be given a proper Christian burial, with 40 shillings set aside for the process. Yet it seems that Trigg was never moved, and who knows where Ann’s 40 shillings went.

The Barn Circa 2016. via Wikimedia commons

By 1774, the barn had become the Old Castle Inn and, in between escaping a series of nearby fires, Trigg’s coffin had become quite the tourist draw. Visitors to Stevenage would pop in to the Castle Inn for a drink and gawp at the coffin in the rafters for centuries to come. Several checks were made of Trigg’s coffin over the years, most notably in 1831 and 1906, by which point the coffin was said to hold most of a human skeleton.

A Trigg Postcard (Personal Collection)

Souvenir hunters are no rarities in the world of ‘weird tourism’, and it is believed that many people have taken bits of old Trigg home with them over the years. In the 19th century, a carpenter was said to have purloined a tooth and some hair, and by the outbreak of WWI, commonwealth soldiers stationed nearby would steal and sell bones to excited tourists, occasionally topping up the supply with help from the local butcher’s shop. Other visitors to Trigg’s coffin over the years claim to have come face to face with a pile of horse bones. They may not have been the same bodysnatchers that Trigg feared, but their intentions and the outcome was the same. Trigg was slowly pilfered away.

By 1999, the NatWest bank moved into Trigg’s old premises and demanded that the coffin be removed during renovations. Not only that, but any remaining human bones should be buried appropriately. It doesn’t seem to have been reported whether or not any of Trigg’s bones remained, but the empty coffin was duly placed back in the rafters as a local curiosity and a plaque placed outside to commemorate the strange story.

The bank closed in 2015 and is now a dental practise, hopefully with Trigg’s lonely coffin still in place.

As with all odd tales, we can’t leave without checking in with a few ghosts. During renovations in the 1960s, workmen were said to have seen a man in an overcoat pass through the wall in Trigg’s barn, but later 1970s attempts to contact his spirit were fruitless. Owing to resting on private property, it seems unlikely that any modern ghost hunters will get their turn with Trigg’s coffin, but if rumours are to be believed, he can still be found wandering around his old barn, looking for his body that was stolen from him.


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