Phoebe Palmer.

The Antiquary (Volume 31) online

. (page 58 of 67)
Online LibraryPhoebe PalmerThe Antiquary (Volume 31) → online text (page 58 of 67)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

The following customs and beliefs have been
gathered together in Lincolnshire, excepting
in those cases where a reference is given.

Many of them have the names of the
villages suppressed at the wish of those who
communicated the information ; in other
cases the belief is so widely spread, not
only in Lincolnshire but throughout the
neighbouring counties, and in some instances
nearly the whole of England, that it would
be impossible to specify the localities in
which it is found. The idea that "blest is
the corpse that the rain raineth on," is a
general one all over the county. During a
funeral which took place at Grayingham in
1894, a few drops of rain fell on the coffin
as it was borne from the church to the grave,
and these few drops from a serene sky were
regarded as a happy omen.

It is a general custom to open the window
of the room in which a death has just taken
place, and to draw down the blinds of all
the windows of the house at the same time.
So far as I have been able to discover, the
reason for this act is forgotten ; but there can
be little doubt that it originated in the belief
that the spirit of the departed cannot leave



the room in which the mortal remains are
lying unless a clear passage into the pure air
be allowed; and that thus opening the
window was to be regarded in the light of a
kindness, to assist it on its departure from
the scene of death.

The blinds are always kept down until the
funeral procession has left the house on the
way to the church ; then they are drawn up
by some friend, neighbour, nurse, or servant,
who has remained behind for the purpose.
At a funeral which took place at Bottesford
in 1887, the nurse who had attended upon
the dead, and who remained in the house,
did not go to the burial, giving as the reason
that she must stay to draw up the blinds so
that the house might not wear a look of
mourning when the family returned.

In some villages it is usual for the rela-
tions of the deceased to keep their blinds
lowered from the time they hear of the death
until after the funeral, even if the death took
place at a distance.

In 1 89 1 the blinds were not pulled down
at a house in Bottesford until the day of the
funeral of a member of a family who had died
at a distance, but who was brought thither
for burial ; and it was considered a mark of
inexplicable carelessness that they had not
been lowered from the time that the death
was known of.

In many places box is thrown into the
grave upon the coffin, as a symbol of the
eternity of the life everlasting, because it is
an evergreen. Smafl sprigs of box are some-
times found when old graves are disturbed ;
they are usually quite green, though dry and

Thyme is thrown in a similar manner upon
the coffins of members of the Oddfellows'
Benefit Clubs, by fellow members, to show
that time has no longer any meaning for the
dead : they have done with it for ever.

Rosemary is sometimes placed on the
breast of the departed, and buried with
them. This custom is probably connected
with the belief that rosemary has a tendency
to prevent the spread of zymotic diseases.

This was the practice alluded to by an old
man at Messingham, between the years 1870
and 1875, who was popularly considered to
be a very ill-conditioned husband, when he
said, speaking of his wife who had lately

died, that he " never liked her looks since he
married her half so well as when he saw her
with rosemary under her chin."

This plant used to be strewed before the
judges and other officials in the assize courts
during the prevalence of gaol fever.

When possible it is considered proper that
the horses used for a funeral should be
black, or if they are not to be obtained, then
any dark colour will do ; and there is a
general belief that if a mare has a foal soon
after being used to draw a corpse, the foal
will die at its birth.

Seed - cake and narrow oblong sponge
biscuits are served to the assembled guests at
a funeral, accompanied by wine, generally
sherry, though sometimes port is used in-
stead. This is before the burial. After the
return from church it is customary for the
whole party to sit down to tea, at which hot-
buttered cakes are always served.

At Gainsborough there existed a custom
of giving away penny loaves at funerals to
whomsoever asked for them.* Most probably
this was a lingering and debased survival of
the pre-Reformation doles.

It is usual in Lincolnshire to carry the
coffin, followed by the mourners, into the church
at the north door ; and at christenings and
marriages to use the western or southern

As far back as can be traced in the mytho-
logy of the northern European races, the
north was held in abhorrence as the home of
cold, darkness, and storms ; and no doubt
this feeling still remained when Christianity
became general.

Until lately it was not usual to bury on
the north side of the churchyard unless
absolutely obliged to do so by want of space,
there being a strong prejudice against so
doing. The last two lines of an epitaph in
Epworth churchyard,* dated 1807, allude to
the widely-spread belief that those buried
there will, at the Day of Judgment, rise from
their graves later than those who were laid to
rest in more favoured portions of the sacred
ground :

And that I might longer undisturbed abide,
I chorsed to be laid on the northern side.

* " Burial Customs," The Westminster Revinv,
Aug., 1893, p. 170, by England Howlett, F.S.A.
+ Ibid.



It is considered to be the duty of the
mistress of the house to go out and receive
all the guests who attend a funeral, whether
relations or friends, before they enter the
door. Some years ago an old woman who
had dwelt all her life in the county animad-
verted severely on the conduct of a neighbour
who had allowed the men of the family to
give the first welcome to some distant rela-
tions who came to attend the funeral of a
member of the family. She finished by
observing : " I wonder what she could be
thinking of ! But there ! she never did know
behaviour !"

Funeral wreaths do not seem to have ever
been very much used in Lincolnshire, or if
they were, all tradition of them has long ago
perished ; but there are a few traces of them
to be met with. A maiden's funeral wreath
and gloves cut out of white paper are still
suspended on the chancel of Springthorpe
Church,* and two or three time-worn chaplets
of flowers hung withered and dusty on the
screen at Bottesford Church before it was
restored (?) in 1820-26.

These funeral wreaths were sometimes
made of metal, sometimes out of white paper,
and sometimes were merely fashioned out of
flowers. They generally were accompanied
by white gloves, and were only carried at the
funerals of young unmarried women of good

There was formerly a widely-spread custom
of throwing a white sheet, as a pall, over the
coffin of a woman who had died at the birth
of her child. At Bottesford this was done as
recently as i860, after the coffin had been
carried to the eastern end of the nave of the
church. There can be little doubt that this
was originally intended to indicate that the
deceased had died a martyr's death, such
being the general belief in the Middle Ages.
It was also customary in some villages for a
woman who had thus died to be carried to
her last earthly resting-place by matrons
wearing white hoods, but I have not heard
of this being done during the last twenty
years. Maidens, however, are still, in certain
parishes, carried to the grave by young girls
thus attired ; and in some cases the girl-
" bearers," as well as wearing the white hood,
have long white scarves made either of silk
The Bells of Lincolnshire, p. 668, by T. North.

or cotton, and white gloves, and so like-
wise have all relatives and friends who
attend the funeral. Formerly everyone
attending a funeral wore these long scarves,
made either of black silk or crepe, and
they were given along with black gloves
by the family of the deceased ; but during
the last few years this custom has declined,
though it is often done. Women, especially
relations, at a funeral used to wear a hood
of black material ; but I believe this to be
obsolete, though it was done between i860
and 1865.

There is a superstition that if any garments
that have been worn by the dead are put
away, as the body decays in the grave, so
will its earthly vesture rot ; but to the best
of my knowledge this is not a very widely-
spread or general belief.

" One funeral makes three " ; that is, should
there have been an interval of some duration
without any burial taking place, and then a
death occurs, two more will speedily follow

The utterly false notion that "a green
Christmas makes a full churchyard " is a
generally received one. and in consequence a
" white Christmas " is accounted lucky.

It has been conclusively proved that a
mild winter causes fewer deaths than a
severe one, but it occasionally happens, as it
did in this winter of 1894-95, that a warm
and open season up to the end of December
is followed by severe cold, lasting for a con-
siderable length of time. When this occurs,
naturally aged people and those who have
weak hearts, and who are exposed to the
extreme cold, become affected by the weather
and die ; and thus probably more people in
any rural neighbourhood pass away during a
few weeks than have done for the past three
or four months. Then the neighbours re-
member that there was a green Christmas,
and their faith in its baleful influence is con-
firmed. You should never, under any
circumstances, walk upon a grave, or in any
way tread upon it ; it brings bad luck to do
so, and is considered not only as a mark of
disrespect to the person buried beneath your
feet, but to all the dead that lie around.

When half of the graveyard of the chapel
of Coates was ploughed up, it was sown with
turnips, and the sexton told the late Sir



Charles Anderson, of Lea, that it was " a
singular thing, they all cam oop fingers and
toes," evidently believing it to be the result
of the sacrilege.*

By " fingers and toes " it is meant that the
turnip, instead of being of a globular shape,
grows split up into long carrot or finger-
shaped fangs, and is thus quite useless.

The custom of burying nails with the dead
is a very ancient one, pre-Christian we know.
Nor is it to be wondered at when we con-
sider that iron was held to be a power-
ful agent against witchcraft. Skulls are at
times dug up with iron nails hammered
through them, and it has sometimes led to
the belief that murder has taken place ; but
the more likely thing is that the nail was
placed there after death, the intention being
in some way to benefit the departed exactly
how, we do not know.

Somewhere about 1843 a skull was dug up
in Messingham Churchyard with a nail
through it. Another instance of the belief of
the efficacy of burying iron with the dead is
illustrated by the fact that the key of Bishop's
Norton Church is said to have been found
under the head of Matthew Lidgett, who was
parish clerk, and who died in 1742.

The " layer out " in some places ties to-
gether the feet of the corpse, but it is neces-
sary that they should be unloosed before the
coffin is screwed down, or else the dead will
not rise at the first resurrection. t If from
duty, inclination or any chance whatsoever
you see a dead body you must on no account
neglect to touch it, for if this is not done the
spirit of the departed will haunt you.

It is a common and most reprehensible
practice to make a kind of show of the dead.
Not only are the relations and those who love
the departed suffered once more, and for the
last time for ever in this world, to gaze upon
all that is mortal of him who has assumed
immortality, but anyone that likes may come
and stare out of vulgar curiosity. To such
an extent is this carried that the writer could
name a village she knows well where a few
years ago a boy, who was a member of a
certain Sunday-school, died from scarlet

* The Lincoln Pocket Guide, 1880, p. 69, by Sir
Charles H. J. Anderson, Bart.

t Bygone Lincolnshire, p. 94, edited by William

fever ; and it will scarcely be believed that
the other children who formed the school
were taken to look at him lying in his coffin
ready for burial.

Whether they have seen the deceased after
death or not, it is considered necessary for all
the members of a family to touch the dead,
in order to prevent him from troubling them,
or other ill luck ensuing.

In some places, if a body does not stiffen
properly, it is regarded as a sign that one of
its kindred will soon be taken from this

Another sure sign of a death occurring in
a family is for fruit trees to bloom at unusual
seasons ; pears and apples often have a few
late blossoms upon them at the end of the
summer, or in the autumn, and this is re-
garded as a most awesome sign.

To break a looking-glass is held to show
that without doubt someone dwelling in the
house will shortly pass away ; but there is no
reason to suppose it will be the person who
causes the breakage.

The " death-watch " is known all over,
and universally believed to be a token that
death will visit the house ere long. At
Lincoln it is sometimes spoken of as " the

If the church bells sound with a dull heavy
tone, as they sometimes do on account of
certain states of the atmosphere, it is held to
be a warning that death will shortly occur in
the parish. This is believed in many parts
of the county ; the writer heard it said at
Kirton in Lindsey in 1893. There are
many curious beliefs relating to bells that we
are unable in any way to account for. What
is the origin of the saying that if a passing
bell tolls on a Sunday there will be another
one heard before the end of the week ? If a
passing bell is tolled by mistake, as if for a
funeral, in ringing the church bells, there
will certainly be a death in the parish before

In some places when a corpse is brought
by rail from a distance, the bell is tolled in
the parish where it is taken out of the train,
as well as at the church in which the funeral
service is read ; this was done at Kirton in
Lindsey in 1895. This is also done when
a corpse is carried from a house to be
interred beyond the limits of the parish



where the death took place. If any bell
rings in a house by itself, it is held to be a
sure death sign.

At Lincoln Assizes, when a man or woman
is being tried for a capital offence, if the jury
are going to bring in a verdict of guilty, and
it is to be what is popularly known as "a
hanging assize," the wind during the whole
time of the assizes is very high, and it
usually becomes a gale when the verdict of
guilty is pronounced. During the interval
which elapses between the death sentence
being passed and the carrying out of the
law the wind continues very high, but after
the execution is over a dead calm occurs.
The Prince of the Powers of the Air is satis-
fied, having received his due.

The well-known custom of setting a loaf
of bread, with quicksilver in it, to float on
water in which someone who has been
drowned remains undiscovered, is practised
in the county ; but the corpse must be left
for three days before the plan is tried, and
then the loaf will float to the spot where the
body is, and remain stationary above it. I
understand in some parts of Lincolnshire it is
not considered necessary to place quicksilver
in the bread.

It is believed to be very unlucky to hold
any dying creature in the hands ; it will most
likely cause the death of, or a grave mis-
fortune to happen to, the person who is rash
enough thus to tempt fate.

The hooting of owls at any time, and the
crowing of cocks before midnight, are death-
boding omens to some member of the house-
nold of the person who is unfortunate enough
to hear them."

The belief in the death-rap is not nearly
so general, so far as I am able to make out,
as many other traditions ; but I have reason
to know that it exists on the wolds, and in
some of the villages lying east of the Trent.
It assumes the sound of a sharp stroke, or
strokes, somewhat like the sound that furni-
ture occasionally makes a kind of sharp
cracking. There is much vagueness about
this omen. Sometimes it is sent to warn
people that ere long a death will take place
in the house ; at others it merely denotes
that the death of a relation or friend at a
distance may be expected.

The death-cart is a most horrible thing,

and so far as I am able to discover the belief
in it is not widely spread. There is a sound
heard as of a cart rolling up to the door of
the house where a death will soon take place.
It suddenly stops, and all listen amid a deep
silence which may almost be felt.

Sometimes, but not always, there is im-
mediately upon the stopping of the cart a
sound as of a load being discharged against
the wall of the house. Then follows the
dead silence ; the cart never goes away.
Most probably but this is merely my own
interpretation ; I was never told so the cart
has come to bear away the body in its coffin,
and thus cannot depart till after the death
has taken place ; and the load discharged
against the side of the house may perhaps
be meant to represent the soil from the

If a lamp-chimney break without any
obvious cause death is surely at hand, the
shattered glass seeming to mean an existence
ended in this world.

Sometimes soot will gather in the wick of
a candle, and this happened much more
frequently in the days of " dips " and candles
which required snuffing ; this also is a sign
of a death in the house. When wax or
tallow runs down the sides of a candle, and
then detaches itself and curls up, it is a
winding-sheet, and means the speedy death
of the person sitting opposite to it.

If a candle be left burning in the chamber
where one lies dead, and it should chance
to fall from the candlestick, there will be
a further death in the family ; also it is very
wrong to place a stable-lantern on a table,
as if you do so it will cause the death of some
animal on the farm.

Should a fire remain alight all night by
accident, a death in the house will follow
the portent ; this belief is current in Lincoln.
In like manner should a fire lit in the
morning happen by any chance to remain
neglected and without any fresh fuel, but
still burn all day, death or misfortune is
nigh at hand.

If an oblong cinder, known as "a coffin,"
flies out of the fire, it means either the death
of the person near whom it alights, or of
someone he holds dear. A loose soot-flake
hanging from the bar of the firegrate is " a
winding-sheet " when it is not " a stranger " ;



by the latter term is meant anyone who is
not expected calling at the house.

When certain diamond or lozenge-shaped
creases are formed by folding a tablecloth
carelessly, they are known as " coffins," and
a burial is soon to take place.

To dream of a wedding is a certain sign
of the death of someone near or dear, and
to dream of broken eggs means a death or
some great misfortune.

On the Burton hills is a spot said to be
the burial-place of a woman who committed
suicide, but her name and history are alike
forgotten ; yet people who pass that way still
fling stones upon the place where she lies.
I do not know another instance of this in

There is an ancient practice at Swineshead
of cutting a large cross in the turf where
anyone has met with a violent death. There
can, I think, be little doubt that this pious
custom has come down to us from the days
when it was usual to erect a cross upon
the spot where any human being had met
with violent or unforeseen death. This is the
only instance I know of such a custom yet
remaining, not only in Lincolnshire, but in
Britain ; and if it still lingers anywhere else
I should be glad to be told of it.

In most places if there remains any tradi-
tion of a body being buried in an unusual
place, such as the wall orfioor of a house, one
hears of the ghost " walking " and various
uncanny noises ; but I am unable to connect
ghosts with strange burials in Lincolnshire.
When the Peacocks went to live in the Old
Hall at Northorpe about 1740, repairs were
done to the house, and alterations made in
it. In one of the walls were found the bones
of a little child; no tradition remains, nor
has anything relating to them ever been dis-

If the ghost or spirit of a person does not
leave the grave and " walk " before he has
been dead and buried twenty-five .years, it
can never do so afterwards. This was said
at Bottesford between the years 1876 and
1882. It is a most extraordinary supersti-
tion, and I am doubtful as to the exact
meaning. There is, of course, the well-known
general belief that the ghost, spirit, or what-
ever it is that " walks " dwells in the grave
along with the body, and that it assumes

the appearance it wore in life, when at night
it leaves the grave and wanders about ; but
why should there be a kind of statute of
limitation as regards time ?

Is it possible that the underlying meaning
is that if a person has been laid to rest for
twenty-five years, and no stories as to his
having been seen have arisen, that they are
not likely to do so ?

A curious myth has grown up within my
own memory at Bottesford. My father, as
trustee, had to put up a tombstone to the
memory of a certain person ; this stone took
the form of a heavy slab laid upon the grave.
There is an inscription and a coat-of-arms
upon it ; the arms consist of a shield charged
with a lion rampant. The pathway to the
school leads through the churchyard, and
some years ago (and most likely at the
present time) it was currently believed by the
school-children that the lion was a true and
lifelike portrait of a dog which was supposed
to be buried beneath the stone, and who
might be heard barking.

Telling the bees of a death in the family,
especially of the master of the house, is a
very old and general custom, the belief being
that if they are not informed of it they will
either all go away, or else die. A cottager
at a village near Grimsby told the bees of
her husband's death, and asked them "to
be trig and work for her." On being re-
quired to explain what " trig " meant, she
said " wist," wist being understood to mean
quiet and orderly. Should bees swarm on
dead wood it is a very bad sign, and means
the speedy death of someone.

I do not suppose that these are anything
like a complete collection of the traditionary
beliefs and customs in Lincolnshire relating
to death and kindred subjects, but they
are all I have been able to gather together ;
the extreme unwillingness of those who
have faith in them to speak upon the subject
rendering it almost impossible to obtain in-
formation, even when one knows of its ex-
istence, and there must be much more behind
that educated people of this generation have
never even heard of.



^ome jFurtbcr OBrampIes of
Jrisb Plate.

By D. Ali.kyne Walter.

N continuation of the descriptions I
have previously given of pieces of
Irish plate, both secular and ecclesi-
astical, I add the following, which
seem to be worthy of record.

very good piece of silversmith's work of last
century. The dimensions are: Height, 5J;
diameter of mouth, 3^ ; and of the base 3

The next two pieces of plate to which I
desire to call attention are a censer and ship
for incense, which are preserved at the Roman
Catholic church of St. Nicholas, Dublin.

These vessels, which have till lately been
used in the services of the church, possess
considerable interest as being examples of


The first piece is a very handsome, two-
handled cup, of Irish workmanship, and with
Dublin marks for 1769. It is in the posses
sion of Mr. Longfield, the curator of the Art
Department of the Museum of Science and
Art in Dublin. The cup is vase-shaped, with
good repoussee work, showing on the front the
figure of a piper within a cartouche-shaped
space, the side spaces being ornamented with
vine leaves and clusters of grapes. It is a

Irish silversmith's work in a troublous and
eventful period of history. How they came
into the possession of the clergy of St
Nicholas's church, or what special connection

Online LibraryPhoebe PalmerThe Antiquary (Volume 31) → online text (page 58 of 67)