Grave robbery bones laid to rest in East Neuk service

The Rev Arthur Christie with the casked containing the bones of Stephen Williamson.
The Rev Arthur Christie with the casked containing the bones of Stephen Williamson.

The 200-year-old bones of an East Neuk magistrate, partially dug up by grave robbers and scattered around Kilrenny churchyard, were re-interred on Thursday.

The macabre incident at the 15th century church last month was described as being like a modern-day act of Burke and Hare.

A spade was used to dig down five feet, where Stephen Williamson’s skeletal remains were then cut through and fragments of bone dumped in soil on the surface. His skull could not be found, and may have been stolen.

Mr Williamsons’ descendants around the world were shocked to learn of the desecration, and seven family members attended the re-burial.

Great-great-granddaughter Anita de Lotbiniere said: “We all hope that the prompt action to preserve the relics in the church prior to their being buried again and the fact that everyone is taking it so seriously will provide some satisfaction and closure for everyone.”

The gruesome excavation took place between March 1 and March 8 and was discovered by a member of the congregation.

Mr Williamson, who was also a local shipowner and farmer, died in 1816. His wife Mary, who died in 1828, is also buried in the plot.

The couple’s grandson, also called Stephen Williamson, became a Liberal MP in the 1880s, and gifted Cellardyke Town Hall and the Waid Tower to the community.

The Rev Arthur Christie, minister for Anstruther, Cellardyke and Kilrenny, said: “We’ve all seen vandalism over the years but we’ve never experienced anything like this and hopefully will never again. This is Burke and Hare stuff of the 21st century.”

A special casket was made for the remains to be placed in and Mrs de Lotbiniere said the family were very grateful to Mr Christie and undertaker Peter Murray for their help and support in making the arrangements.