The Corpseway

A friend wrote to me in 1871 to say that at Redcar in Cleveland, in the earlier part of this century, a funeral was preceded by a public breakfast. Then the coffin was carried slung upon towels knotted together, and borne by relays of men to Maroke (Marske?), up the old ‘ Corpseway,’ and bumped upon a heap of stones, three times. This was an ancient resting-place at the top of the hill. The ‘Lamentation of a Sinner’ was then sung, and the procession moved to the churchyard, every man, woman, and child receiving a dole of sixpence as they entered.

Examples of Printed Folklore Concerning the North Riding of Yorkshire, York & the Ainsty. Collected & Edited by Mrs Gutch. Publications of The Folklore Society. 1901

Death and Remembrance

We needed a walk but didn’t want to travel far from home…Thunderbush Moor along the Whiteley Beck valley and then up to North Ings and the wonderful Bride Stones.

The trees planted in the valley are growing well. In a few years this will be a lovely broad leaf woodland

Someone has decorated a tree in memory of a lost friend. Amongst other things they have left a beautiful photograph, a joyful scene.

A painting has been added to the memorial to the two pals who lost their lives during the First World War

The heather is low on the edges of the prehistoric cairnfield, a trio of burial cairns poke through the peat beside the path.

We follow the Bride Stones from the valley head onto Skelderskew Moor .

I wrote a post on the history of this short valley here https://teessidepsychogeography.wordpress.com/2014/06/08/stones-shakespeare-and-men-of-the-moors/

Death & Burial

Bob Fischer kindly invited me to contribute a weekly item to his Thursday night BBC Tees show.  These are the notes from a show a few weeks ago on the subject of death & burial traditions from our area

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

On the coast it was believed that a person couldn’t die until the tide was out and couldn’t be born until the tide was in.

It was believed that a person couldn’t die on a mattress stuffed with the feathers of pigeons or wild birds.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Following a death all fires must be extinguished in the room where the corpse is kept and any animal that jumps over the coffin must be killed immediately and without mercy.

If a person is drowned, it is said that their body will float to the surface on the 9th day.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When searching for a drowned body it was said that a loaf of bread soaked in quicksilver will swim towards the location of a corpse.

At funerals there was a custom to hand ‘burnt wine’ to the funeral goers in a silver flagon, out of which every one drank. The drink was a heated preparation of port wine with spices and sugar and if any remained, it was sent round in the flagon to the houses of friends for distribution. The passing bell was then tolled at all hours of the night to keep away evil spirits.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Some folk had an aversion to be taken to the church by hearse, choosing instead rather to be carried by hand. The coffin was carried by slinging linen towels beneath it. Women were carried by women, men by men, and children by children

If a woman died in childbirth, a white sheet was thrown over the coffin.

If an unmarried female died, a garland was carried in front of the coffin and hung up in the church after the funeral. The garland consisted of two hoops intertwined, decorated with white paper flowers and ribbons, in the centre was a white glove, often home-made, of paper or fine linen, upon which was stitched or written the name and age of the deceased. A couple of these garlands have been survived and can be seen in St Stephens church at Robin Hoods Bay.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When a girl, or an older unmarried female was carried by hand, the bearers were all young or single women dressed in white wearing white straw bonnets. If the body is taken to the gates of the churchyard by the hearse, the plumes of the vehicle and the hatbands of the carriage drivers were entwined with white ribbons

It was customary to send gloves to the friends of the deceased, white for the funeral of an unmarried person, black for the married.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Mark’s-e’en Vigil

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Perhaps one of the oldest customs is that in connection with St. Mark’s Eve. The belief is still held that those who watch the church porch at the hour of midnight on that eve, will see pass in front of them and enter the church the spirits of all of those friends who will die during the coming year. With some it is held to be a sine qua non that the watcher must sit within the porch; whilst others hold four cross roads to be equally efficacious, alway provided that the body of one who had committed suicide, with the orthodox stake driven through the chest, had been buried there, that being the end of suicides in the good old days.

It should be borne in mind that there are two slight penalties attached to this porch or cross-road watching.

Firstly should the watcher fall asleep, there is every probability if its being the sleep of death. Should he however, manage to awaken from such a lethargic slumber it doesn’t amount to much, as he will assuredly die within the next twelve months. Secondly, whoever tries this game once must continue to do so ever afterwards. There is no escape; the spell upon them is said to be too strong to withstand.

Yorkshire Wit, Character, Folklore & Customs. R Blakeborough. 1911

 

Death or Wealth?

11162088775_56bec50c8f_o

When a cinder springs sharply out of the fire it was called either a purse or a coffin; the distinction depending not on the shape, but on its making a cracking noise or being perfectly silent; in the former case it is called a purse. This idle piece of superstition is not attended with very violent emotions either grief or joy, although originally, no doubt it was supposed to forebode wealth or death to the person nearest to whom it first fell.
A glossary of provincial words used in Teesdale. Frederick P Dunsdale. 1849

The Mourning of the Bees

Should the family of the departed one possess a hive, the announcement of a death must at once be made to the bees, and the hive be draped in black. The bees must also have given to them a portion of everything, to the minutest detail, which is offered to the bidden guests, including wine, spirits, tobacco, and pipes; nothing must be omitted, for in some undefined way bees watch over the welfare of those to whom they belong, and it would be unwise to offend them. It is held that if the first swarm following a death, no matter how long the interval, is easy to hive, success is guaranteed for the next business transaction, but should the swarm settle on a dead bough, it foretells death to another of the family in the near future; while should the swarm fly away and be lost, then great care must be exercised in all undertakings, until such times as a swarm has been successfully hived.

Yorkshire Wit, Character, Folklore & Customs. R Blakeborough. 1911

 

bee eye

Rev. Atkinson tells of the bees being put into mourning at the death of their master,  this account was given to him by the rector of Sessay.

..Presently his attention was aroused by the passage of a woman, the wife of the eldest son of the deceased man. She was carrying a tray, on which he saw there were piled a variety of eatable and drinkable matters. She went straight to the beehive, and he heard her address the bees themselves. Naming the late owner, she said, “John G____ is dead, and his son is now master. He has sent you something out of every dish and jug on the table, and we hope you will be content to take him as the new master.”

Forty Years in a Moorland Parish. 1908