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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Maiden’s Garlands – Rudolf Rocker

My friend Chris Whitehead kindly sent me a link to Rudolf Rocker’s lovely song. The song is taken from their 2012 album The Whitby Scar  released in 2012 and is still available to buy.

Organ

The organ in the church was used on the recording of the song. This and other tracks from the album are discussed in an interview with Mark Goodall on Chris’s Out on Ye! blog.

 

The Maiden’s Garlands of Robin Hood’s Bay

Cupola

St. Stephens church is a lovely box-shaped Georgian church built in 1821 replacing an 11th century building. The church is no longer used and is owned by the Churches Conservation Trust.

The interior of the church has painted plaster walls and numbered box pews. There is a three-decker pulpit and a gallery on the west and north sides.

Inside the church, behind a glass panel are two Maiden’s Garlands, a third, modern replica, is hung in the nave. The garlands were made by the friends of a young woman who had died before she was married. Her coffin bearers would be young girls dressed in white, the garland was carried in front of the coffin and hung up in the church after the funeral.  Of the two original garlands in the church; one was made for Elizabeth Harland with died in 1848 aged 19, the other was made for Jane Levitt who died in 1859 aged 20.

The garland consisted of two hoops intertwined, decorated with white paper flowers and ribbons, in the centre of which was a white glove, often home-made, of paper or fine linen, upon which was written or worked in some fine stitch the initials or name in full and age of the deceased. According to locality this garland was either carried in front of the coffin by one of the deceased’s dearest companions, or laid upon it.

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