William Andrews.

Curiosities of the church; studies of curious customs, services and records online

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effigies at Westminster may be mentioned those
of Queen Elizabeth, Charles II., William and
Mary, Queen Anne, Sheffield, Duke of Bucking-
ham, and Lord Nelson. The figures were
withdrawn from view on account of the sneers
of sightseers who failed to appreciate their
antiquarian importance.


N bygone times it was the custom to
bury royalty, the nobility, and the
more wealthy of the English people
at night. For centuries the usage
was maintained, and many were the
weird scenes the nocturnal funerals presented in
the quiet country lanes, in the streets of towns,
and in our ancient churches. Torches lent a lurid
light to the ceremony.

Respecting royal funerals, a volume might be
written ; but here we must content ourselves
with directing attention to two. The one is that
of Mary, Queen of Scots, and the other that of
George II. The circumstances which brought
about the tragic death of Mary, Queen of Scots,
on the scaffold at Fotheringhay Castle on the
morning of the 8th of February, 1587, do not
come within the scope of this chapter. The
headless body of the Queen was placed in a
leaden casket in a chamber at Fotheringhay.


After earnest appeals from Mary's faithful
servants, and remonstrances from her son, for
the body to receive Christian burial, Queen
Elizabeth gave directions for its interment with
state ceremonials at Peterborough Cathedral.
The ist of August, 1587, was the day fixed for
the funeral. It appears from a carefully-compiled
account of the funeral in " Fotheringhay and
Mary, Queen of Scots," by the late Cuthbert
Bede, that some days before that date, officials
were sent down to make arrangements. " On
the evening of Sunday, July 30th," says Cuthbert
Bede, " the Garter King-of-Arms, with five
heralds, and forty horsemen, arrived at the
Castle, bringing with them a funeral car, drawn
by four caparisoned horses. The car was covered
with black velvet, on which were escutcheons
bearing the arms of Scotland, with little pennons
round about it. The leaden coffin, placed in an
outer coffin, was carried down the stairs, and
lifted on the car, by torch-light, by the bare-
headed heralds, habited in their coats and tabards.
Then, at ten o'clock, the procession started for
Peterborough, by torch-light, and a mourning
train of men and women, who had been faithful
to the Queen of Scots in the days of captivity,
followed her murdered remains as they were


borne away, in mock state, from Fotheringhay
Castle, her last prison, and the scene of her sham
trial and cruel death." The torch-light pro-
cession presented a strange spectacle as it slowly
moved along the quiet country lanes. The
distance travelled was a little over ten miles, and
the Cathedral of Peterborough was reached
between one and two o'clock in the morning.
The coffin was placed in the vault without
ceremony, the state ceremonial being performed
next day.

Mary, Queen of Scots, was buried by Old
Scarlett, the celebrated sexton, who interred two
generations of his fellow-creatures before he
passed away, on July 2nd, 1591, at the ripe old
age of ninety-eight years. He also buried
Catharine, the divorced wife of Henry VIII.,
who died at Kimbolton Castle, Huntingdonshire,
in the year 1535. A portrait of old Scarlett was
placed in the west end of Peterborough Cathedral.
We are, by the courtesy of Messrs. W. and R.
Chambers, enabled to reproduce a representation
of it from their " Book of Days." In that work
is a notice of this sexton, in which it is stated
respecting his portrait : " And what a lively
effigy — short, stout, hardy, and self-complacent,
perfectly satisfied, and perhaps even proud of his



profession, and content to be exhibited with all its
insignia about him ! Two queens had passed
through his hands into that bed which gives a
lasting rest to queens and to peasants alike. An
officer of Death, who had so long defied his
principal, could not but have made some
impression on the minds of bishop, dean,
prebends, and other magnates of the Cathedral,
and hence, as we may suppose, the erection of
this lively portraiture of the old man, which is
believed to have been only once renewed since
it was first put up. Dr. Dibdin, who last copied
it, tells us that ' Old Scarlett's jacket and trunk-
hose are of a brownish red, his stockings blue,
his shoes black, tied with blue ribbons, and the
soles of his feet red. The cap upon his head is
red, and so also is the ground of the coat
armour.' "

The following lines below this portrait are
characteristic of his age : —

You see old Scarlett's picture stand on hie ;
But at your feet here doth his body lye.
His gravestone doth his age and death-time shew,
His office by heis token [s] you may know.
Second to none for strength and sturdy lymm,
A scare-babe mighty voice, with visage grim ;
He had inter'd two queenes within this place,
And this townes householders in his life's space
Twice over; but at length his own time came,
What he for others did, for him the same
Was done : no doubt his soule doth live for aye,
In heaven, though here his body clad in clay.



From the time of the burial of Mary, Queen
of Scots, to that of George II., one hundred and
seventy-three years passed. The remains of the
King were laid at rest on the night of November


nth, 1760, in Westminster Abbey, and the
funeral formed an imposing sight. Foot-guards
were drawn up in lines to enable the procession to


pass to the Abbey without interruption. Every
seventh guard held a torch. The sacred pile
was ablaze with light, and many notable men
were present. The interment took place in the
chapel of Henry VII., and here was some con-
fusion. The Yeomen of the Guard were unable
to bear the great weight of the coffin, and cried
for assistance. The officiating Bishop blundered
very much in reading the burial service, and
altogether the final scene was one of disorder, and
caused much disappointment to the officials who
had planned the pageant.

Many well-known representatives of literature
and the drama have been buried at night.
Abraham Cowley filled a foremost place amongst
the poets of his period. He was born in London
in the year 16 18, and was the posthumous son of
a respectable stationer in Cheapside. His educa-
tion was received at Westminster, where he was
a king's scholar ; and in his eighteenth year he
proceeded to Trinity College, Cambridge, and
subsequently became a member of it. He
"lisped in numbers," publishing in his thirteenth
year a volume of verse. Few men have been
more esteemed by their contemporaries than
Cowley, and he died at Chertsey amidst feelings
of profound regret, on the 28th July, 1667.


" His death," it is stated in Spence's " Anecdotes."
" was occasioned by a mean accident whilst his
great friend, Dean Sprat, was with him on a visit
there. They had been together to see a
neighbour of Cowley's, who (according to the
fashion of those times,) made them too
welcome. They did not set off for their
walk home till it was very late, and had
drank so deep that they lay out in the fields
all night. This gave Cowley the fever that
carried him off." Pope related the foregoing to
Spence ; but Cowley's biographer, Sprat, gives a
widely-different account of the poet's death. He
says — " One day in the heat of summer, he had
stayed too long amongst his labourers in the
meadows, and was seized with a cold, which,
being neglected, proved fatal in a fortnight."
When the King, Charles II., heard of his death,
he said, " Mr. Cowley had not left a better man
behind him in England." The body of Cowley
was brought to Westminster by water, and
amidst great pomp buried at night in the Abbey,
near to the graves of Chaucer and Spenser. In the
dim light of the church stood the most eminent
men of the day paying their respects to the
departed worthy. Said the London Gazette of the
time — " He had been the greatest Ornament of


the nation, as well by the candour of his life as by
the Excellency of his Writings."

The remains of Joseph Addison were laid
to rest in Westminster Abbey, at midnight, on
June 26th, 17 19. His body had previously lain
in state in the Jerusalem Chamber. When it was
being taken to its final resting place, " Bishop At-
terbury," writes Macaulay, " one of those Tories
who had loved and honoured the most accom-
plished of the Whigs, met the coach, and led the
procession by torch-light round the shrine of St.
Edward and the graves of the Plantagenets, to
the chapel of Henry the Seventh. Here the
coffin was lowered into a vault beside that of his
patron, Montague, the Earl of Halifax. A
number of the Westminster boys held tapers,
and by their light the Bishop impressively read
the church service. The solemn service inspired
some of Thomas Tickell's best lines. In a poem
addressed to the Earl of Warwick, after asking —
What mourner ever felt poetic fires ?

He says —

Slow comes the verse that real woe inspires :

Grief unaffected suits but ill with art,

Or flowing numbers with a bleeding heart.

vSays the poet next —

Can I forget the dismal night that gave
My soul's best part for ever to the grave ?


How silent did his old companions tread,

By mid-night lamps, the mansions of the dead,

Through breathing statues, then unheeded things,

Through rows of warriors, and through walks of kings !

What awe did the slow solemn knell inspire :

The pealing organ ; and the pausing choir ;

The duties by the lawn-robed prelate paid :

And the last words, that dust to dust conveyed !

While speechless o'er thy closing grave we bend,

Accept these tears, thou dear departed friend.

Oh, gone for ever ! take this long adieu ;

And sleep in peace, next thy loved Montague.

A little later, on the night of September 25th,
1 72 1, the poet, Matthew Prior, was buried at
the feet of Spenser, in the Abbey. In the same
shrine a few years afterwards, on a dark
December night, on the 23rd of the month,
another poet, John Gay, was interred in the
Abbey. The poet Pope, and Lord Chesterfield,
were amongst the mourners.

The first actor buried in Westminster Abbey
was Thomas Betterton. He was a man of great
talents, and won a leading place on the stage,
and it has been said of him that he " was not a
greater actor than he was a true and honourable
gentleman." One writer speaks of his having
" a royal funeral," adding that " he was worthy of
it, for he was a king on the stage." Sir Richard
Steele, his old friend, who was present, made it
the theme of an interesting paper in the


" Tatler." On the night of the 2nd of May, in
1 710, he was interred in the East Cloister.
Sixty-seven years later died Samuel Foote, the
famous comedian. At the time of his death,
which occurred at an inn in Dover, on October
2 1 st, r777, he was on his way to the Continent
in search of health. A monument was placed to
his memory in St. Mary's Church, Dover, and it
is generally supposed that he was buried there ;
but such is not the case. We gather from the
" Recollections of Bannister" that " Mr. Jewell,
at the representation of half the actors and
dramatists of the day, brought the body to
London in order that it might be publicly interred
in Westminster Abbey ; but after he had taken
the step no funds were forthcoming, and he
buried his friend at his own expense in the
Cloisters." The ceremony was performed
privately by torch-light on a dark November

Cowper's friend, Mrs. Unwin, died at East
Dereham, Norfolk, on December 17th, 1796.
The pair had spent together many happy years.
It appears from the life of the poet that he was
barely conscious of his loss. " On the morning
of her death," says Goldwin Smith, " he asked
the servant whether there was life above stairs ? "


On being taken to see the corpse, he gazed at it

for a moment, uttered one passionate cry of

grief, and never spoke of Mrs. Unwin more."

She was buried on the 23rd of the same month,

by torch-light, in the church of Dereham. A

marble tablet was placed to her memory, and

it bears the following epitaph :

Trusting in God, with all her heart and mind,

This woman prov'd magnanimously kind ;

Endur'd affliction's desolating hail,

And watch'd a poet thro' misfortune's vale.

Her spotless dust, angelic guards defend !

It is the dust of Unwin, Cowper's friend !

That single title in itself is fame,

For all who read his verse revere her name.

On April 25th, 1800, Cowper died, and in the
same church his remains were laid to rest. Of
the poet and his friend it has been said — " They
were lovely in their lives, and in death they are
not divided."

Robert Kitchingham, in the year 171 6, died
at the age of 100 years, at Allerton Hall, Leeds.
He left directions that the custom which had
been observed in the family for four centuries be
carried out, namely : — that of bearing his body
from the hall by torch-light. His ancestors had
their vault in St. Peter's, Leeds, but he desired
his body to be borne to Chapel-Allerton. This
was done on the 16th May, when one hundred



torches were carried. The room where the
body lay was draped with black ; the neighbour-
ing gentry, as pall-bearers, wore black scarves,
and fifty pounds was distributed amongst the poor
in the chapel-yard at the time of the interment.
His wife, Mary, received burial in the same manner.
She was the sister of the Rev. Henry Robinson,
Vicar of Leeds, who swam the Aire to escape
the Parliamentary besiegers of Leeds, and for
some time remained concealed at Allerton Hall.

When the murdered Earl of Northumberland
was buried in Beverley Minster, in 1489, some
fourteen thousand persons attended the funeral,
many thousand torches were borne in the pro-
cession, and the expenses of torch bearers formed
a heavy amount in the costly funeral.

We obtain, from a copy of an undertaker's

account for September, 1780, a good idea of the

cost of a funeral of a person of the middle station

of life. It amounts to a little over ^"61, and

includes items as follow :

To 32 men, carrying ye lights at 2S. 6d ^4 o o

To 32 branches for ditto 054

To 681bs. of wax candles for ditto, at 3s. per lb. 10 4 o
To 2 beadles attending ye corps with silk

dressings and gowns 1 10 o

The " History of Skipton," by W. Harbutt
Dawson, published in 1882, contains notes of
great interest bearing on this subject. It appears


that down to the commencement of this century
torch-light funerals were very general in the old
Yorkshire town of Skipton. " It was," says Mr.
Dawson, "in by-gone times an invariable custom
to bury at midnight a woman who had died at
the birth of her first child." He further states
that " generally, too, her coffin was carried under
a white sheet, the corners of which were
supported by four females." Night funerals
were open to not a few grave objections, and in
1803 a town's meeting was held to consider them.
The meeting agreed with a representation made
by the Rev. Robert Dyneley, the curate, that
great inconvenience does frequently arise from
the custom of delaying funerals till a very late
and unreasonable hour in the evening. It was
resolved to prevent the delays which in most
cases were alike inconvenient to the officiating
minister and the well-disposed part of the
parishioners, and it was ordered that all funerals
be henceforth solemnised at or before six o'clock
in summer, and at or before four o'clock in the
winter — summer from the 21st March to the 21st
October ; winter from the 21st October to the
21st March.

In the West of England are traces of
nocturnal burials. We gather from the Rev.


Robert Stephen Hawker's Cornish ballad,
entitled " Annot of Benallay," that when " The
Flower of Benallay " was borne to her grave :

At lone midnight the death-bell tolled,

To summon Annot's clay ;
For common eyes must not behold

The griefs of Benallay.

Pope aims his satire at the display of lights at
funerals, thus writing :

When Hopkins dies, a thousand lights attend
The wretch, who living, saved a candle's end.

We will close this chapter with a few lines on a
man of far different character to those we have
previously mentioned. The notorious highway-
man, Claude Du Vail, was executed at Tyburn
on January 21st, 1670, and his body afterwards
conveyed to a tavern in St. Giles, where it
lay in state. The room containing the body was
hung with black, and lit up with six wax tapers,
and eight men attired in long black cloaks
solemnly watched it. Subsequently he was
buried by torch-light under the middle aisle of
Covent Garden Church, and a large crowd,
chiefly composed of women, assembled to witness
the burial of Du Vail. Over his grave was
placed a white marble stone, bearing the Du Vail
arms and a curious epitaph concluding with the
following couplet : —

Old Tyburn's glory, England's illustrious Thief,

Du Vail, the Ladies' joy; Du Vail, the Ladies' grief.


HE poetical practice of carrying
garlands before the corpses of
maidens at their funerals, and after-
wards suspending those mementoes
over the seats the deceased had
occupied in the church, once prevailed in nearly
all parts of the country, and still lingers in a
few rural districts. This beautiful rite may be
traced back to a remote period. At the burial
feasts of the Anglo-Saxons, flowers formed a
touching feature. In later times garlands made
of artificial flowers were adopted, because they
retained their beauty for a much longer time
than those formed of real flowers.

The works of dramatists and poets of bygone
times have numerous allusions to this theme.
Shakespeare, in Hamlet (V., i.) puts into the
mouth of the priest these words :

Yet here she is allow'd her virgin crants, *
Her maiden shewments, and the bringing home
Of bell and burial.

* " Grants " means garlands.


A Derbyshire poet named William Sampson,
writing in 1636, on the death of a maiden, says :

The Temple was with garlands hung,

Of sweet-smelling flowers, which might belong
Unto some bridall ! noe ! heaven knows the cause,
Twas otherwise decreed in Nature's Lawes ;
Those smelling sweetes with which our sense was fed,
Were for the buriall of a maiden dead.

We cull from an old ballad the following lines in
which references are made to garlands :

But since I'm resolved to die for my dear,

I'll chuse six young virgins my coffin to bear ;

And all those young virgins I now do chuse,

Instead of green ribbands, green ribbands, green ribbands,

Instead of green ribbands, a garland shall wear.

And when in the church in my grave I lie deep,

Let all those fine garlands, fine garlands, fine garlands,

Let all those fine garlands hang over my feet.

And when any of my sex behold the sight ;

They may see I have been constant, been constant,

They may see I'm constant to my heart's delight.

A couplet in Gay says :

To her sweet memory flow'ry garlands strung
On her empty seat aloft were hung.

Miss Anna Seward, who was born at Eyam,
Derbyshire, in the year 1742, in one of her
poems thus refers to the custom in her native
village :

Now the low beams with paper garlands hung
In memory of some village youth or maid,

Draw the soft tear, from thrill'd remembrance sprung;
How oft my childhood marked that tribute paid?


The gloves suspended by the garland's side,
White as its snowy flowers with ribands tied ;

Dear Village ! long those wreaths funereal spread,
Simple memorial of the early dead.

The foregoing- lines first appeared in the Morning
Chronicle of September 25th, 1792. Miss
Seward appended to her poem a note stating
that " The ancient custom of hanging a garland
of white roses made of writing paper, and a pair
of white gloves, over the pew of the unmarried
villagers who die in the flower of their age,
prevails to this day in the village of Eyam, and
many other villages in the
Peak.' The garlands

remained in Eyam church
only for a few years after
Miss Seward had written
her poem. Early in the
present century the church
was repewed, and the gar-
lands taken down and
destroyed. It appears
from a letter dated March
31st, i860, written by William Wood, the
historian of Eyam, to the late Mr. Llewellyn n
Jewitt, F.S.A., the well-known antiquarian
author, that it is half-a-century since a funeral
garland was seen at this village. "It was


Matlock Church.


carried," says Wood, "before the corpse of a
Miss Alice Heathcote, a young woman under
twenty ; it is little above twenty years ago.
The garland and two baskets of flowers in this
instance were thrown in the grave on to the
coffin ; or rather most of the flowers were
strewn between the church gates and the church
door ; and the remainder with the garland into
the grave."

Until quite recently five garlands were sus-
pended in the north aisle of Ashford Church,
Derbyshire. One bore the date of April 12th,
1747 ; and another the following : —

Be always ready, no time delay,
I in my youth was called away,
Great grief to those that's left behind,
But I hope I'm great joy to find.

Ann Swindel,

Aged 22 years

Dec. 9th, 1798.

One is still preserved in the church of South
Wingfield near Alfreton. It was carried at the
funeral of Ann Kendall, who died of a broken
heart on May 14th, 1745. The story of her
death is very sad. The heartless conduct of
her lover killed her, but according to local
tradition he did not long survive her death.
She had only a short time been laid in her grave,


when, as he was riding past the churchyard on
horseback, the church bells commenced to toll,
and the unexpected sounds startled his horse so
that it stumbled, throwing him to the ground
and breaking his neck by the fall. The families
of the deceived and the deceiver are now extinct
in the village, but the tale is still told of Miss
Kendall's fall and her lover's tragic death.

We have found traces of funeral garlands
at Ashover, Bolsover, Fairfield, Matlock,
Tissington, Hope, and other Derbyshire
villages. Rhodes, author of " The Peak
Scenery," writing in 1818 about Hathersage,
says il In this church we observed the traces of
a custom that once generally prevailed in various
parts of the kingdom, but is now almost totally
disused. When unmarried women died, they
were usually attended to the grave by the com-
panions of their early years, who, in performing
the last offices of friendship, accompanied the
bier of the deceased with garlands tastefully
composed of wreaths of flowers, and every
emblem of youth, purity, and loveliness that
imagination could suggest. When the body
was interred, the garlands were borne into the
church, and hung up in a conspicuous situation
in memory of the departed. There is something


extremely simple and affecting in this village
custom, and we cannot but regret that it is now
almost entirely discontinued. In Hathersage
there were several of these memorials of early
dissolution, but only one of recent date ; the
others were covered with dust, and the hand of
Time had destroyed their freshness.

William Howitt, the popular author, was a
Derbyshire man, and was born at Heanor in
1795. He wrote some charming notes on this
subject. He never saw a garland carried at a
funeral, but recollected seeing them in the church
of his native village. His mother in her
younger days helped to prepare them for the
funerals of her friends. Large sums would often
be expended in ribbons, artificial flowers, and
costly materials for forming a garland, and we
have seen it recorded that at Glossop, Derby-
shire, the young men of the place on one
occasion gave thirty pounds for one which was
carried at the funeral of a maiden beloved by
all of them.

We gather from a carefully written description
of funeral garlands, contributed to the " Anti-
quarian Repertory," published in the year
1784, that in some instances these memorials of
the early dead were extremely ornamental.


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Online LibraryWilliam AndrewsCuriosities of the church; studies of curious customs, services and records → online text (page 7 of 11)