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Ancestors. Pt. 5, The curse of Oxford Gaol.

  • Videos

About this work


Interesting documentary charting the discovery of human remains on the site of a Norman castle moat beside Oxford Gaol. The gaol itself is being redeveloped as a hotel and the site of the moat was being cleared to make way for an underground car park for guests. Numerous skeletons were discovered about 3 metres below ground level which appeared to be the bodies of prisoners sentenced to death by hanging, then dissected by medical students, which was part of the punishment. Most of these prisoners were buried in unmarked graves inside the prison walls, but those found in the moat were buried in unconsecrated ground, suggesting that they were taken by bodysnatchers and sold for dissection. Further down in the site, more skeletons were found which seemed to date from the late 1500s. In 1577, a man called Roland Jenks put a curse on everyone present in the courtroom when he was sentenced to having his ears cut off. Many deaths followed, so people believed the curse. The programme concludes that these people probably died of typhus, which could have been spread by lice jumping from convicts onto lawyers and judges in the courtroom. At the time, people thought the typhus victims had been sent mad by the curse, so the were probably buried on cursed ground, i.e. in the moat, which seems to have been a general dumping ground for rubbish.


United Kingdom : BBC 2, 2004.

Physical description

1 video cassette (VHS) (50 min.) : sound, color, PAL


Broadcast 20 March 2004.

Creator/production credits

Produced and Directed by Jan Klimkowski; Series Producer Sam Roberts.

Copyright note

BBC Television.



  • English

Where to find it

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