Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Death in the Victorian Era part 10: Mourning Cards



Death in the Victorian Era part 10: Mourning Cards
A tradition that has stayed with us from the Victorian Era, although somewhat altered and modernised is the Mourning Card.


Traditionally, Mourning Cards were supplied by the Undertaker. The card was usually printed black and silver on a white background, but depending on the status of the person, they could become quite ornate, with some examples having inset photos.
 Most would feature traditional grief symbology, crosses, a female mourner or one of the many other symbols that reminded the reader of death.
The card featured the name of the deceased, sometimes their birth-date and details about the funeral. They were a standard size of around 3 by 4.5 inches.  On occasion they might be sent out to those who could not attend the funeral, as a reminder of the person, and to remind the viewer to add the recently deceased to their prayers.
 



 As Mourning Cards became ever more popular, their appearance became more intricate, with some containing gold embossing, poems, prayers, artworks or photos of the deceased. Cards belonging to direct family members might’ve also contained a lock of the deceased’s hair or a button from their clothing. The card and the lock of hair would then be presented in the home in a special frame, or sometimes an elaborate mourning card stand

By the 1900’s the cards had become much simpler, and with the modern advent of printing technology, today we see cards that feature photos, prayers, funeral details and so much more in high gloss print, but nothing we do today, comes close to the artistry of the Victorian Era Mourning Card.

Next Week: Death in the Victorian Era part 11: Sin Eaters




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Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Death in the Victorian Era part 9: Funeral Mutes



Death in the Victorian Era part 9: Funeral Mutes
 
 It would be unheard of today, and probably considered an extravagant expense, but during the Victorian Era “Funeral Mutes” were considered a normal sight at most upper-class funerals.
Mutes were usually men whose job it was to stand outside the door of the deceased persons house, then accompany the coffin to its final resting place. They wore mainly black (or very dark clothing), carried long walking sticks (called a wand) which was covered in black crape, and wore solemn looks upon their faces, much like the clich├ęd funeral director image we have become accustomed too through cinema and TV shows like Scooby Doo.
 It is thought the tradition may be a left over from the old Roman tradition of “lictors” that escorted the funeral processions of Rome’s prominent citizens through the streets to their final resting places.    In the early usage of funeral Mutes they were essentially ceremonial funeral protectors, standing guard at the doorways of the dead, but as time went on they become more symbolic of the correct way to mourn and conduct oneself at a funeral and set the overall tone for the event.  


 Mutes had their own customs too, black was worn when in service for an adult, but white adornments were added when in service for a child, this included white gloves, white sash, a top hat with white lace veil tied around it and sometimes a white scarf tucked inside the Mutes jacket.
 They were generously supplied with gin by their employers, to help them fight the cold when they walked alongside the hearse – this sometimes saw those Mutes who were not so professional, end up very drunk.
 Probably one of the best known Mutes is Oliver Twist from Charles Dickens second novel of the same name. Twist, a young boy, is sold by Mr Bumble to Undertaker and Coffin Maker, Mr. Sowerberry to work as a mute at children’s funerals and to be his apprentice undertaker.
 By the late 1890’s the employment of Funeral Mutes had all but ceased, and were seen as a very extravagant cost for the middle and lower classes. By World War One they were all but forgotten.

Next Week:  Death in the Victorian Era part 10: Mourning Cards

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