Foul emanations

The letter of commendation from the Southern Railway management. It took two months to send it.

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Complaints of ‘foul emanations’ were common in St Thomas’s Church – now Portsmouth’s Anglican cathedral.

For centuries it had been the custom to inter the bodies of the favoured, great and good beneath the church floor rather than in the graveyard where ordinary mortals were consigned.

For worshippers, dressed in their Sunday best and praising God, the smell was becoming intolerable.

A new vicar of Portsmouth, the Rev Daniel Darnell, was appointed in 1899 and very soon became aware of the problem.

He initiated a complete restoration of the church and the floor was pulled up.

Examination revealed that the soil beneath was composed mainly of decayed coffins and human remains and the Rev Darnell, who rolled up his sleeves to help, contracted typhoid from which he died.

The church was officially re-opened ‘safe and sanitary’ by the Bishop of Winchester on this day in 1904.

Mrs Darnell paid for a memorial for her late husband in the form of black and white flooring for part of the church – John Sadden’s The Portsmouth Book of Days.