I came across this burial record when looking through the OPR for Royston, north of Barnsley. I am very grateful that Royston has been included within the West Yorkshire OPRs that have been digitised and made available on Ancestry, as it’s where my Senior or Senyer ancestors lived.
1680 “Thomas Senyer of Notton was buried January the 19th George Senyer of Notton aforesaid did make an oath the 26th day of January before Jasper Blytheman Esquire that he was buried only in woollen, —– Harison and Joseph Norton did set their hands and seals to the said affidavit as witnesses”
(Has anyone any ideas what Mr. Harison’s first name might be?)
The reason for making such a formal oath was the Burial in Woollen Act of 1678 which made it the law for everyone, except those who died of the plague, to be buried in a shroud made only from English woollen cloth. The law required an affadavit to be sworn in front of a JP. Anyone not complying was fined £5, which was a lot of money in those days. The act was brought in to give the English wool trade a boost, and to prevent the use of imported cloth.
The woollen fabric most often used would a kind of flannel, in white or as near to white as they could get. It was most often like a long shirt which wrapped over the feet. The body might then be put into a wooden coffin, but some people, particularly the not so well off, were simply buried in the shroud. Some churches had a communal coffin that could be used to transport the corpse, but it wouldn’t be buried with the corpse.
Some OPRs just have A of Aff next to the burial entry to indicate the affadavit had been made, but whoever kept the Royston Parish Register obviously wanted to make absolutely certain nobody had to pay the £5. Exemption was allowed for the very poor, and their burial entries can sometimes say “naked”, meaning the body hadn’t been wrapped in a shroud.
The law wasn’t repealed until 1814, but by the early 1700s it was mostly being ignored. However, woollen coffins are today making a comeback on environmental grounds – there’s a company here in Leeds making them.