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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