Tag Archives: COVID-19

British mourning cards and Funeral fashion

As a child in Britain in the early 1950’s I remember the death of our Monarch King George VI on 6th February 1952. I was 6 and a half.

When his death was announced on the radio, my family and grandparents immediately drew all the blinds in their houses and covered all the mirrors and clocks. Neighbours did the same. A black funeral wreath was placed on the front door, and black bands were purchased for the men, these to be worn on arms when outdoors. The family spoke in hushed tones. I clearly remember answering the door to a visitor and whispering to them “The King has died’

Everyone wore black and some openly cried. On the day of the funeral, everything ceased. Transportation stopped, shops closed, the streets were empty. Schools, theatres, movies were all cancelled. The radio was surrounded by family members listening avidly. Newspapers the next day, provided photos.

Citizens reading of the death of the King

During this time of the World wide COVID-19 Pandemic, death has been a constant. There have always been many visual symbols of grief in the World especially during the Middle Ages, when black attire was popular with the wealthy and symbolic of spiritual darkness. Velvet especially was very expensive.

The wealthy classes would show their status in life, through paper products. cabinet cards, calling cards and they were the status symbols for many years. The Industrial Revolution caused a rise in commercial processes, but they were still very expensive in the 1800s

King George VI Death Card

Victorian society was obsessed with death and Queen Victoria and her subjects followed the rules she set. Perhaps the most significant turning point in Queen Victoria’s life was the death of Prince Albert in December 1861. His death sent Victoria into a deep depression, and she stayed in seclusion for many years, rarely appearing in public. She mourned him by wearing black for the remaining forty years of her life. [1]

Death was a frequent visitor in Victorian Britain and planning to die well, started whilst young. Conversations about death were open and ongoing. People knew what their kin wanted for a funeral, and women made their own shrouds and some even included a funeral shroud in their wedding dowries!

Kate Strasdin, a British fashion historian and curator said it was during this period that codes for mourning dress took hold. The modern department store was born of the brand spanking new funeral industry where, in one stop, you could acquire everything for a funeral from stationary and clothing, to mourning jewellery. [2]

An advertisement for mourning clothes for all the family from Jay’s London General Mourning Warehouse. Date: 1888

The following advert in The Illustrated London News, August 31, 1844 shows how people were tutored on how to dress;

MOURNING—Court, Family, and Complimentary.—The Proprietors of the London General Mourning Warehouse, Nos. 247 and 249 Regent-street, beg respectfully to remind families whose bereavements compel them to adopt mourning attire, that every article (of the very best description) requisite for a complete outfit of mourning may be had at their establishment at a moment’s notice.

Widows’ and Family Mourning is always kept made up; and a note descriptive of the mourning required will ensure everything necessary for the occasion, being sent (in town or country) immediately Ladies requiring Silks—either Satins. Satin Turcs, Watered or Plain Ducapes,and Widows’ Silks, are particularly invited to a trial of the new Corpeau Silks introduced at this house, as they will be found not only more durable, but the colour will stand the test of the strongest acid,or even seawater. Black and Grey, and Fancy Mourning Silks of every description.

The Show Rooms are replete with every novelty that modern taste has introduced in mourning millinery, flowers, collars, head-dresses, bugle berthes, trimmings. &c. &c.—The London General Mourning Warehouse, Nos. 247 and 249, Regent-street, near Oxford street.—W. C. JAY, and Co.

Over the years we have again become more open about death, and to tell our families what we want and how we want to be dispatched. The Victorians would have been shocked at how much less formal we are today with our funerals planned as a ‘celebration of life’ or focusing on protecting the environment.

Many of our customs today would certainly be shocking to someone from the Victorian era, as we are generally much less formal. The Victorians would have been aghast at a funeral that was a celebration of life. A green funeral where the focus of the burial is on protecting the environment would have been an outrage. Although we still wear mourning jewellery today it is more likely to contain the ashes of the deceased. (1)

in my family, my Maternal Grandfather Percival Victor O’Bray allowed me to copy some of his families’ mourning cards. I always wanted to know the reason behind these cards why we wear black and how our mourning rituals came to be.

The research has been interesting.

My Great-Grandmother (Front View)
Back View of the Mourning Card

This next family history mourning card is the most heart-breaking in my collection. By the time this death notice was posted in the newspaper, 16 days later my Great-Grand Uncle’s third and youngest daughter had died too.

Newspaper Clipping March 13, 1890
Back View of Mourning Card

SOURCES

[1] https://studioburkedc.com/blogs/news/victorian-rules-for-the-end-of-life-a-victorian-celebration-of-death-mourning-cards-and-funeral-cards-by-studio-burke-ltd

[2] https://lite.cnn.com/en/article/h_d762dee6d1828b37ca55a2ee4892263b

[3] https://www.sparknotes.com/biography/victoria/section5/