Mortsafes – also known as morthouses – were built in the 19th century to protect corpses from grave robbers who dug up and sold bodies for medical purposes. They generally were made of iron roads and metal plates temporarily fitted above the tomb so that robbers could not break in.
These heavy structures were created in response to the increase of stolen corpses being sold to medical schools for educational purposes.
They were built in a variety of different designs and keys were often required to open them.
Kept in place for six to eight weeks (by then the dead body would decompose) they were removed and then placed over another tomb.
While most of them were above ground, some were also placed underground and were either completely or partially buried. One of the mortsafes in Aberdeenshire, Scotland was designed to look like a circular shaped building with a thick wooden door and an inner iron door. It was large enough keep seven coffin boxes safe. As the coffins were removed to final resting places, other coffins would be brought in.
In Northumberland, England, communities built watch houses where guards stood sentry in churchyards and burial grounds.