Funerals! Salon Poster
Edited Transcripts

Funerals! With Wulfriðe Blitzen

Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: Guten Abend, everyone.
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: Welcome to March’s Aether Salon, home of Dauphine Fauve’s talkative absinthe.
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: A few points of order before we start.
1) To ensure you can hear the speaker, stand or sit on the patterned carpet.
2) Sit wherever you might like in the provided seating. If you would prefer a wearable chair, please contact me in IM. The director’s chairs are for Tinies.
3) Please remove all lag-feeding thingamajigs you might be wearing.
4) A tip jar is out for our speaker. Do please show your appreciation!
5) Any tips to help support the establishment will also be welcome – just click on one of the support signs or this handsome clank floating above us.
6) If you are not a member of the AEther Salon group, there are signs that will let you join up. You’ll be most heartily welcome.
7 ) Edited and unedited transcripts of these proceedings will be posted at
8) Tea and treats are set out – help yourself! Beware of possible Hatchies guarding the sweet biscuits.

Our speaker today is a long-time resident of several of the Steamlands, a responsible citizen and a highly regarded staff member with the Embassy. She is also an archaeologist of long-standing and finds all kinds of history fascinating. Today she will fascinate us with funeral traditions and history. Wulfrithe Blitzen, everyone.

Wulfriðe Blitzen: Danke, Herr Baron and thank you all for being here today.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Before I start, I would like to make a note – I am recovering from a very bad flu infection and wrote this during the worst period – it is not as polished as I would like.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Secondly, if at any point, you have a question, please ask!
Wulfriðe Blitzen: It is hard for us to understand the Victorian preoccupation with death.
Although they were familiar with death and did not welcome it, they did relatively feel rather at ease with it. They celebrated it for no other stage of life demanded such elaborate rites of passage. We in the 21st century are now the opposite; with many people ‘erecting fences’ when the matter is brought up and instantly changing the subject. In African and some Asian cultures, it is a time of partying and joy. We know about the New Orleans Jazz funerals, but have you ever seen Ghana Coffin Dancers who perform feats of strength while carrying the coffin to the gravesite to wild music?
Wulfriðe Blitzen:
Wulfriðe Blitzen: A small gif of them in action
Wulfriðe Blitzen: In this talk, I will cover the rituals and habits of the English, which were to some extent copied in America for a set period of time. Some information may surprise you and I hope to dispel some of the more lurid and false Internet myths that have sprung up about the Victorian way of death. I am however just scratching the surface – there is an awful lot more to learn.

Wulfriðe Blitzen: Before Death:
Preparations for the funeral might take place well in advance by both rich and poor – the actress Sarah Bernhardt famously kept her coffin in her boudoir and was photographed in it, something she undertook on a regular basis it was claimed. The poor too: one period writer commented on his village carpenter making his own coffin then turning it into an upright storage space and cupboard until the time came for it to be used. Earlier there are several accounts of generals setting off to war and battle complete with their coffins strapped to the back of their coach.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: There she is, looking languid and Gothic
Wulfriðe Blitzen: The Earl of Essex was one such general who at the start of the English Civil War in 1642 became a butt of jokes when his coffin, winding sheets and other funerary items was said to slow down his regiment during marches. Some accounts survive of dying ladies being visited by friends to approve the wreaths they will put upon their coffin and graves. This was far from a morbid visit and usually depicted as a happy social time where the dying person would be cheered by having a ‘good funeral’.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: The role of Undertaker did not exist before the mid 17thc when everything was left to family and friends. Traditionally women washed and prepared the body before the funeral. So many people died in the great plague of 1665 that the role grew from a small group of volunteers who offered to take away the diseased corpse as no one else would touch them. In just twenty years it became established as a very profitable business with its own traditions and trappings.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: In the image on the right you can see an invitation for a night funeral.
(image to follow)

Wulfriðe Blitzen: Mourning:
Although black is traditionally worn we have to bear in mind that until the 1840’s when chemical dyes were invented, black was a very expensive colour reserved for the rich. The poor made do with a black ribbon or wore ‘drab’, consisting of dark grey or browns (another Roman tradition). However, in some countries white is worn instead. And until the 1920’s white was worn in England for children’s burials, unmarried women and girls who died in childbirth with their first child. Modern children’s coffins are still white but people now wear black, although in England at least a new trend is emerging where mourners are asked to dress in bright colours to celebrate the life of the person. White was, before Queen Victoria, a rare colour to wear at a wedding because of its connection to death, and some people at the time found it more than a little shocking.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: The image of the Queen of Holland is not a wedding, but of her in mourning. The Dutch Royal family still adhere to this tradition today
Wulfriðe Blitzen: On the left is a ‘Mute’, in this instance to a child funeral
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: Pardon, what are those wrapped poles?
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Mourning had become very strictly observed by the Regency period, where rules stated how long you wore mourning, what type of mourning if you were a child, right down to the fabric used. Silk Crepe had become a fashionable mourning fabric as far back at the late 18thc, and society demanded that a widow wore black crepe up to four years before she was permitted to revert to fashionable clothing again. Half-mourning was permitted after two years, but a woman remarrying before the end of the mourning period was considered utterly scandalous. Mourning wasn’t so strict for children who had passed away, being mostly one year. Poor people would wear black armbands.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Ah, the poles have various names including ‘Muffler’
Wulfriðe Blitzen: It was a Victorian hang up from the medieval habit of displaying a banner with a coat of arms
Wulfriðe Blitzen: They traditionally led the procession at the front
Wulfriðe Blitzen: In the UK today you sometimes see a solitary man walking in front of the coffin, so his role, although less fabric covered, still exists
Wulfriðe Blitzen: The start of the 17thc started a new craze for mourning rings, and by the late 18thc a fashion for hair braid lockets woven into intricate styles became fashionable. They actually started off as a sweetheart brooch, a gift between lovers or even just friends as before then mourning jewellery were rings. By the Regency era hair brooches became more intricate, often featuring a weeping willow tree made from the hair of the deceased. This pushed sweetheart hair gifts to a new direction, braided hair necklaces or bracelets, and sometimes these are mistaken for death or memento mori items. By the 1850’s mourning hair brooches were a huge seller, and you could even buy empty ones to place your own hair into.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: The brooch on the left is using hair to great effect, but this fell out of fashion by 1850
Wulfriðe Blitzen: I must briefly mention the so-called post-mortem photos, as many bloggers have posted thousands of these online. Unfortunately far too many are mistakenly labelled as post-mortem. Fake post-mortem photos, whether categorized in error or intentionally mislabelled to sell for a profit, have in recent years become widespread on the Internet. They fill online galleries of Victorian oddities and accumulate on Pinterest and Instagram—even otherwise reputable websites have contributed to the myths.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: The image in the centre is often cited, but is NOT of a dead child.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Though unfortunate, it’s also understandable: there’s clearly something compelling about a lurid, not-so-distant culture engaging with death in a way we don’t. People have created fake history and its peculiarity is such that people want to believe it. Many are of people very much alive held in clamps to keep still for the long posing time, of children falling asleep during photo sessions, and of sick people being photographed because family feared the worst. People then did what people do now; look away at the wrong moment, get distracted, move…use your common sense, folks!
Wulfriðe Blitzen: There are some new sites springing up which debunk these photos. Even a Twitter feed

Wulfriðe Blitzen: Embalming:
Although there have been great efforts for thousands of years for the preservation of the corpse it was rather a hit and miss affair. Embalming was rare and the preserve of the very rich, so bodies were washed, dressed within a ‘winding sheet’ often held together with pins and ties and then left to rest for a few days to ensure the person was really dead. It was already well known that some burials in lead coffins survived ‘uncorrupted’, but they did not understand the causes. However, by the late 18thc, the population boom made burials more urgent, and that was when rumours increased of live burials.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Heres’ some examples of ‘Avoidance of Live burials’
Wulfriðe Blitzen: They are American – they seemed rather petrified. Even Washington demanded that his body be left for a couple of days to make sure he was utterly dead.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: The idea of these crypts were that you were removed from your coffin and slid, feet first, into the tomb
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Food and drink was provided, as was air
Wulfriðe Blitzen: In an emergency, you could reach back and open the door
Wulfriðe Blitzen: By the time of the Age of Enlightenment in the 18thc there was a sudden interest in new scientific methods, so much so that one eccentric, Martin Van Butchell of London advertised in 1775 that visitors were welcome to come and see his wife who had passed away and that he had embalmed in the utmost scientific way. She remained on display in his front window till his second wife demanded its removal. There are also records taken down in a scientific way of medieval coffins opened that had well-preserved incumbents where the liquid they were found in was sniffed and even tasted (I kid you not, they really did this).
Wulfriðe Blitzen: If you don’t believe me, there are several accounts out there :p
Wulfriðe Blitzen: By the mid 19thc Arsenic was commonly used to preserve bodies and came into its own during the American Civil War as bodies had to often be transported for great distances to relatives. By the 1920’s this was replaced with Formaldehyde.
Wulfriðe Blitzen lets that sink in for a moment
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Oddly they only stopped using arsenic when it was pointed out that it was poisoning the water table and causing problems in criminal cases where poisoning was suspected

Wulfriðe Blitzen: So, how would you like to be furnished in your last journey?
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Burial habits and change is usually marked by great social upheaval or devastating loss of life in war or disease. The Celts and the Romans practised bed burials which carried on into the early Christian period when beds were replaced with Biers, a kind of flat litter that was carried by four or six men to the gravesite, a tradition that still takes place today in Europe. Medieval parishes would have their own for communal use of the poor, complete with parish coffin for those too poor to afford more than a winding sheet. In those cases the body would be taken to the gravesite, removed from the coffin and buried. Many English churches still have their Victorian or older biers on display. Biers eventually gained wheels before evolving into the horse-drawn hearse.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: In the middle is a selection of gravestones, and how they changed – 17th, 18th and then the mad period of 19thc realism and the grand ‘showing off to the Joneses’
Wulfriðe Blitzen: ‘My grave is bigger than your grave’
Wulfriðe Blitzen: On the upper left is a Pauper’s Bier and Parish coffin
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Underneath that, in contrast, is the gigantic cast iron monster used to carry the coffin of the Duke of Wellington in his 1850’s State funeral
Wulfriðe Blitzen: You can still go and see it collecting dust at the Wellington family home
Wulfriðe Blitzen: On the right is a ‘covered Bier’, for when there was no coffin at all. It was presented to a small English church as a present by the village priest on the occasion of his birthday
Wulfriðe Blitzen: No cakes for him…
Wulfriðe Blitzen: From Roman times onwards the wealthy were buried in lead coffins and archaeologists in the UK still find them in various states of preservation, sometimes with beautiful decoration. By the medieval period, they were small and tightly wrapped around the body in an anthropomorphic shape. Even Kings were buried this way. By the 18thc century, a good burial was considered to be a lead coffin inside a red or black velvet covered oak coffin. This of course was excellent news to the undertakers, who began to cheat and hid inferior construction under the velvet.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Now these are London burial crypts.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: In stark contrast with American crypts (having space), London had none and its common to see piles and piles of coffins
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Now with the ‘gentrification’ of London crypts are being emptied and reburied elsewhere, and specialist archaeological teams have sprung up – it’s still possible to catch Smallpox from crypts
Wulfriðe Blitzen: I’m one of the last to have the Smallpox vaccination, so I get asked on occasion
Wulfriðe Blitzen: I’m not that old, some European countries were still vaccinating against smallpox in the 1970’s
Wulfriðe Blitzen: :p
Wulfriðe Blitzen: As a side note, plague pits are deemed a danger to public health and when found are usually covered up and sealed
Wulfriðe Blitzen: It was discovered that a sample taken from a victim still had living plague virii
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Now to the interesting part!
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Change was afoot, and Fisk cast iron burial cases were patented in 1848 by Almond Dunbar Fisk in Rhode Island. He claimed his new coffins were totally airtight, hygienic and perfect for the preservation of your loved ones. While pine coffins in the 1850s would have cost around $2, a Fisk coffin could command a price between $40 to $100. Nonetheless, the metallic coffins were highly desirable by more affluent individuals and families for their potential to deter grave robbers. These coffins came at a time when death and burial began to become a multi-million pound and dollar enterprise. Cast iron coffins became a huge success, even with some people finding the Egyptian style creepy even for their tastes. By 1860 their style changed into one still seen today with American metal caskets. They were sold around the world but America proved to be their main market. The traditional Brits preferred their lead-lined coffins and fitted guard rails on the graves if they could afford it.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Does any of our American guests recognise these?
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Fisk patented these cast iron coffins in the 1840’s, and before long they became the must-have thing for the rich.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: They even came with a little viewing window
Wulfriðe Blitzen: They were sold to deter grave robbing, airtight and hygienic mode of burial
Wulfriðe Blitzen: And he claimed they preserved the body too
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Recently two were recovered and the Smithsonian opened one and managed to reconstruct the occupant, a teenage boy
Wulfriðe Blitzen: They agree they did indeed preserve their incumbent.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: They changed shape by the 1860’s and became the recognizable modern American style
Wulfriðe Blitzen: By the 1850’s the English developed a collective fear of being buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave and began to set up co-ops where for a small weekly donation they would be able to put some pennies into a fund to help with their burial. The very poor in workhouses could not afford this and continued to be buried in simple unmarked graves, or if in a big city, large mass graves.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: A population boom, large-scale people movement into the cities soon followed and graveyards began to fill up alarmingly fast. One such site was the Cross Bones graveyard in London, in use since the medieval period for the burial of prostitutes, executed criminals and suicides. It was closed in 1853 because it was “completely overcharged with dead”, and further burials were deemed “inconsistent with a due regard for the public health and public decency. This began to be repeated around London and new sites had to be found urgently. Highgate Cemetery is probably one of the most famous of these new sites, and still on occasion allows funerals there if certain conditions are met.

Wulfriðe Blitzen: Burials took place at all hours of the day and night, often at 11pm (finishing at the 11th hour) being the latest. Usually, the coffin was followed by friends and family with the men at the front and ladies at the back. If you were wealthy enough you could afford professional male mourners known as Mutes, or even some feather bearers. Maybe a team of horses. You walked behind the coffin unless you were lucky enough to own a carriage. Mutes have a long history going back thousands of years, originally being female weepers, who by Roman times collected the tears to put in a bottle to bury with the deceased.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: By the 18thc they led the procession to the church, then to the grave. In the UK you will still see undertakers do this role in large funerals, although the title of Mute is now seen as archaic. Medieval habits persisted, with black hooded cloaks with Liripips (similar to modern academic gowns) eventually being replaced by the late 18thc with a wide sash made from Crepe silk worn over the shoulder and around the hat.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: From the 17thc onwards funerals began to be ticketed, especially if the person was popular or famous. The cards usually contained several reminders that one day, it will be your turn *and don’t you forget it!*…or the people who invited you. Funeral biscuits with crosses and often made of shortbread were given to all mourners who turned up, another ancient tradition that sprung from the pagan feasts held around the dead. Funeral biscuits fell out of fashion by World War 1 and the Wake replaced them. There is presently an attempt at reviving this tradition.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Cremation, although ancient in practice, was shunned by the advent of Christianity as a ‘Pagan habit’ and consequently only began to be used relatively recently. Some groups still oppose its use, but with modern graveyard sites running out of room and land becoming more of a commodity these thoughts may change over time. It was resisted in England during the 1860’s when graveyards became a health hazard due to powerful religious leaders stating that one had to rise for the resurrection complete. It was not until 1874 that the Cremation Society, a secular organisation, was formed in London to campaign for cremation, mainly on the grounds of hygiene and cost.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Mutes were young and old. Today, you even see young ladies
Wulfriðe Blitzen: By the 1880s the mere act of organizing a large showcase funeral had reached the upper working classes who pulled out all the stops emulating the rich and state funerals. Naturally, like all these things are wont to do the rich scowled and suddenly found large, over the top funerals gauche and tacky and began to settle for more simple affairs.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Dressed up Mutes, Feather bearers and several horses slowly trickled into being seen as a sign of those ‘lower sort’, and the wealthy settled for just the hearse and a couple of carriages for the immediate family only. Gone were the velvet covered and lead-lined coffins, being replaced with simpler wooden affairs, now with rails for carrying by family members on the shoulders. By 1905 the only people who hired Mutes et al were the working classes who clearly had not got the memo yet that it was unfashionable and downright vulgar.
Wulfriðe Blitzen: The photo behind me is a record of the last great funerals of London’s East End
Wulfriðe Blitzen: He was a shopkeeper but he has a huge team of horses, mutes, feather bearers…
Wulfriðe Blitzen: By now the upper classes thought this was vulgar
Wulfriðe Blitzen: So, as we have run out of time, I shall end this talk today. Thank you for coming

Wulfriðe Blitzen: I know it is a sad topic, but there’s a lot of fascinating things *cough* buried in there
Steadman Kondor: The whole point though is that they thought they would be woken up on judgement day isn’t it?
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Yes exactly Mr Kondor
Kailyn Stormraven: I spent more than 400 EU in going to London for a 3 days trip and explore one graveyard for my book. The snow made it impossible. I have learned more here
Lady Sumoku: “People will remember me”
Wulfriðe Blitzen: Nods
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: Guten Abend.


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