History KS2: The Grave Robber

A historic trial, dramatised from the Old Bailey archives, exploring the case of a grave robbery from 1843.

A grave is found disturbed and the bones have been dug up. In the ensuing trial, a young surgeon and his father, a vicar, are accused of body snatching – stealing a body from a grave.

As the case continues, the father presents an alibi but the clues against his son mount up.

Through witness testimony, we discover what really happened.

The case is played out in the court room with dramatic flashbacks to illustrate the crime. The court reporter sets the scene and offers insight and context.

This film is from the series Tales from the Old Bailey.

Teacher Notes

  • This case can be used to illustrate some of the strains on society produced by rapid population expansion during the Industrial Revolution and the simultaneous growth in appetite for medical knowledge.

  • This clip could become an object of study in itself, with regard to historical interpretation. Pupils could consider the likely accuracy of the clip, what can be inferred by viewing it and think about further information that might be researched about this case or the period. For example, they could consider how much of the original source material, on which the video is based, may have been included and how much might have been edited out or altered, and why. (The language may have to be simplified for a school audience.)

  • Pupils could consider what the makers of the film had to consider when deciding how, or whether, to show the remains themselves.

  • By comparing the layout, furniture and costumes used with original sources from the period, pupils could weigh up the authenticity of the depiction of events.

  • Pupils could be asked to write their own version of the trial which could then be acted out and compared with the clip.

  • The layout, costumes and language depicted could be compared with that in other clips in this series as evidence of continuity and change in the conduct of trials over time.

  • Teachers could use this clip as a starter activity to a drama or history lesson. Pupils could use their drama skills and recreate a scene from the court case.

  • Pupils could write a report for the local newspaper about the grave robbery.

Curriculum Notes

These clips are relevant for teaching history at Key Stage 2 and Second level, particularly when studying the Victorians.

More Tales from the Old Bailey

The Blackguard Boys
The Murderess
The Suffragettes
The Thief Taker General