Did you know the material most prized to show grief was lignite, also known as jet, a fossilized form of coal. Jet is deep, dark and somber. In the first phase of mourning, jet jewelry was the only ornamentation women were allowed to wear.
The middle classes in particular, wishing to follow and accept the higher canons of decency of the upper classes, thus they emulated every example she set. They liked to use black edged stationery, envelopes, notepaper and visiting cards.
Prayer books and bibles had to be bound in Black morocco leather and handkerchiefs edged in black. The list was endless, but all touches were intended to convey to the onlooker through a series of signs and symbols visual messages that the deepest feelings of sadness were felt at the loss. They tied little black or purple ribbons around dressing table bottles and added similar purple or black ribbons even to the clothing of infants.
While women were only supposed to wear jet for the first stage, during the second stage of mourning one could wear a piece of jewellery if it contained, or was made of, hair. That would be human hair. That would be human hair taken from the deceased love one. Brooches, bracelets, rings, chains and buckles were all made of hair; sometimes there was just a bit enclosed in a hollow band or brooch, other times, the hair was crafted into a piece of its own.
A widow was to wear a bonnet of heavy crepe and a veil to cover the face for the first three months. At the end of three months the veil was to be worn from the back of the bonnet for another nine months. Altogether, restrictive mourning dress, known as widow’s weeds, was to be worn for a minimum of two years, although many widows chose to shun colour forever. The duration of wearing these clothes depended on how well the wearer knew the recently departed. A new widow would be expected to mourn her husband (and wear the full attire) for two years, unless the woman was deemed old, in which case she was expected to mourn until her own passing.
Wed, Sep 27, 1916 – Page 10
Everybody else was presumed to be easier to lose. Mourning a parent would be expected to take one year, whereas grandparents and siblings would be mourned for six months.With such low-age life expectancy and large families, Victorians were in mourning more often than not throughout their lives. Holding on to your mourning wear was considered bad luck and would bring untimely death to the family, so most would discard their outfits after wearing them.
This meant that once another family member died, more clothing would need to be made and paid for. This often gave the dressmakers – ironically – customers for life.In 1865 Henry Mayhew the social historian remarked that “Women had to put aside all their ordinary clothes and wear nothing but black, in the appropriate materials and with particular accessories, for the first stages of mourning”. The fashion for heavy mourning was drastically reduced during the Edwardian era and even more so after the Great War. So many individuals died that just about everyone was in mourning for someone. By 1918 a whole new attitude had developed and this was hastened even further by the Second World War.
Once a member of the house died, all of the mirrors in the house were to be covered. If a mirror in the house fell and broke, it was thought that someone in the home would die soon. When someone died in the house, the clock was to be stopped at the hour of death or bad luck would ensue. When a body was removed from the house, it had to be taken head-first so that it could not beckon others to follow.
Not really a mourning tradition, but a good sign of the times: Coffin alarms. The fear of being buried alive was so severe that a device known as a coffin alarm was invented. The contraption was simply a bell attached to the headstone with a chain that connected to a ring placed on the finger of the corpse. (Gives the term “dead ringer” a whole new meaning.) There were outbreaks of many diseases at the time that would leave the body in a comatose state. It could take nothing more than a careless physician or an underlying disease to pronounce the sufferer as deceased, and for the funeral preparations to begin almost instantly.
Information where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in The Townships Sun andScreamin’ Mamas (USA)
Come and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read. Also check out The Tales of Carleton Place.