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 & Burial In North Yorks.

 We have heard old people relate, that at the funerals of the rich in former days, it was here a custom to hand ‘burnt wine’ to the company in a silver flagon, out of which every one drank. This cordial seems to have been a heated preparation of port wine with spices and sugary 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, and not as now in the case of night deaths deferred until the following morning; moreover, the parish clerk was the usual Bidder to the burying for the neighbours then, as at present, were invited in a body, to the concluding solemnity.

Low Hail Bridge

Many of the old fashioned inhabitants, it is also said, had an aversion to be hearsed, choosing rather to ” be carried by hand and sung before, because it was the practice of their families in times past; and in the suspensory manner of hand carrying with linen towels passed beneath the coffin, the generality are still borne to the grave, women being carried by women, as men by men, and children by children ; while women who have died in childbed, have a white sheet thrown over the coffin by way of distinction. Uncovered coffins of wainscot were common some years ago, with the initials and figures of the name and age studded on the lid in brass-headed nails; but this mode of inscription is now rarely to be seen, and black clothed coffins have almost become general. A garland elevated was wont to precede the corpse of unmarried females, but the usage which seems to have been peculiar to the villages, is now discontinued. It is still customary to send gloves to the friends of the deceased, white for the funeral of an unmarried person, and black otherwise; and couples of females called servers, distribute wine and sweet biscuits to the company before the corpse is removed and walk before it to the grave, dressed in white as the case may be, with a ribbon to correspond thrown over one shoulder like a scarf, or a knot or rosette of the same on the breast. As to hearse or pall funerals, they are similar to those in other places.


When a girl, or an older unmarried female is carried by hand, the bearers are all young or single women dressed in white, with white straw bonnets trimmed to accord, and if the body is taken to the gates of the churchyard by the hearse, the plumes of that vehicle and the hatbands of the carriage drivers are entwined with white ribbons (as for the unmarried of both sexes); and a company of bearers attired as above, proceed with the corpse into the church, and from thence to the grave. The mourners kneeling round the coffin, in the chancel, during the service, is a practice in some parts of the neighbourhood still to be seen.

A glossary of Yorkshire Words and Phrases Collected in Whitby and Neighbourhood.

FK Robinson