Funerals and Mourning Customs

9-11 March 1702   Yesterday an Order was published, by Her Majesty’s Royal Pleasure, That all persons, upon the death of His Late Majesty King William, do put themselves into the deepest mourning that may be, on Sunday next: And that for the incouragement of our English lutestring and a-la-mode manufacture, hatbands of black English a-la-mode, cover’d with crape, will be allow’d as full and proper mourning, &c. [London Post]

14-16 October 1702   Yesterday morning the Dutchess Dowager of Richmond departed this life at her house at White-Hall. ’Tis said, She has left 100000l. to a young Nobleman, whom she has made her heir. Mrs. Goldsmith in the Old Jury, has by order of some persons of honour, taken a mould off her face, and we hear her effigies in wax will be set up in Westminster Abb[e]y. [English Post]

30 April — 3 May 1709
The Lord Chamberlain has order'd, That Men, if they please, may wear Dark-grey, with Cuffs, and black Gloves; except on publick Days, when they are to wear Mourning, as now; and the Women to wear, if they please, Stuffs; and the close of this Month, Silk. [The Post Boy]

15 January 1726   Last Wednesday night about 11 o’clock the Lady Viscountess Grandison, after having lain three days in state, was carry’d in a most magnificent manner, from Hanover-Square, to be interr’d in Westminster-Abbey, preceded by above thirty horsemen, the Heralds at Arms bearing her trophies of honour; and follow’d by Garter King at Arms, and above forty coaches and six.
     His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales was incognito to see the funeral procession.
     Five fellows were commimtted to the Gatehouse for stealing the escutcheons from off of the hearse, and causing a riot. [Weekly Journal, or The British Gazetteer]

22 January 1726   Jenkin Evans convicted at the Old Baily for stealing a funeral trophy at the Lady Grandison’s funeral, was whipt yesterday from the end of King’s-street in Westminster, to the Abbey. [Weekly Journal, or The British Gazetteer]

4 February 1727
Mr. Journalist,
THERE is a certain parish within the sphere of the Bills of Mortality, wherein it hath been usual for the sexton, to let an undertaker employ whom he pleased, to ring the knell, giving him an opportunity thereby to secure his private interest in the burials, by cutting off the most common method of intelligence in such cases from all others. This practice of engrossing a trade of this kind I conceive to be very unjust to others, who have been brought up to that business, and not only so, but detrimental to the publick, an affront upon all laws both divine and humane, and a scandal to a freeborn people and the good religion they profess. Tho’ we hear a knell, yet we shall not know by it who is dead at that time, lest another undertaker by that means should step in to perform the funeral. The very searchers shall be kept in ignorance, for fear they may have a friend to serve by conveying him notice of the job. It is usual with those old women to walk about from one undertaker to another, to be inform’d for whom coffins are made or making. They have been observed to come for their fees, when the corps had been secured in its coffin, sometimes at the burying-house, and sometimes at the church-yard. What report can they make of what they never saw? What security can friends or relations, or even the publick have, that persons come fairly by their deaths, where such clandestine doings are in fashion?
     We know that sometimes people die suddenly out of their own home; oftentimes many have secret lodgings in distant parts of the town, or go into the country, on various occasions, and never return home: All these may be laid in their graves before any of their family can be aware of it, or be any whit the better for what they had about them either in bills or in specie, if such an abominable proceeding be allowed to be carried on. Could not the body belong to the head, that was found not long ago at Westminster [see the Case of Catherine Hayes], have been buried in such a parish, without any discovery? I could expatiate much upon this subject, were I not afraid of exceeding the bounds of your allowance. Whom doth an Inspection into an affair of this nature and consequence belong to? Somebody, or nobody, or every body? Justices of the Peace, or Church-Wardens? The Spiritual Court, or the Court of King’s-Bench? What censure or punishment is due to the aiders and abettors of such an enormous practice? Where the arbitrary power of a Pope and Sovereign hath been a long time worn out of a nation, I know no reason why the pernicious sway of a sexton and his undertaker should be any longer connived at in any parish whatsoever.
     I am, &c.           T. S.
[Weekly Journal, or The British Gazetteer]

18 February 1727   On Wednesday night pass’d along Fleet-Street to St. Bride’s Church, the most dismal funeral procession that ever was seen in a Christian country; the corps it seems was a female black, the supporters of the pall, as also fifteen couple that attended it were of the same mournful complexion, and they were lighted to the grave by a great number of chimney-sweepers boys in their proper hue, with black torches. [Mist’s Weekly Journal]

17 June 1727   Wednesday between 3 and 4 in the Afternoon, Mr. Crew, one of his Majesty's Messengers, arrived here with the melancholy News, that our late most gracious Sovereign, King George, died last Sunday, about 2 in the Morning, of a Fit of an Apoplexy, at Osnaburg, in his Way to Hanover, in the 68th Year of his Age, and 13th of his Reign. Sir Robert Walpole, who first received this News at Chelsea, went with it immediately to the Prince and Princess of Wales at Richmond, who thereupon came from thence to Leicester-House, wither the Lord of the Privy Council were summoned, and signed a Proclamation for proclaiming his Royal Highness King of these Realms. . . .
     We hear the Corpse of his late Majesty King George will be brought over to be buried in Westminster-Abbey. . . .
     We hear that the General Mourning for his late Majesty is order'd for Sunday Sennight. [The British Journal]

14 October 1727   On Sunday next the Ladies at Court go out of Bumbazeens for Mourning, and the Men leave of wearing Weepers. [The British Journal]

17 August 1728   The Court mourning for the death of his Royal Highness the Duke of York, is to be as follows, viz. the Gentlemen to wear coats fully trimm'd, black buckles, black swords, and plain linnen; and the Ladies to wear black, white, or grey silks, lawn, cambrick, or muslin, linnen fring'd, with black and white fans; the mourning to hold three months from to-morrow. (Weekly Journal, or the British Gazetteer)

17 August 1728   On Tuesday night the body of Mr. Richard Arnold the Hangman, was convey'd from his house in Deptford to the Parish Church there to be interred: The chief mourners were Little Tom his truly lamenting servant, and his wife, &c. Capt. John Hooper is made Hangman in the room of the said Richard Arhold, being a person of known probity and integrity, and who merits the place by his unspotted character. (Weekly Journal, or the British Gazetteer)

12 February 1730   Yesterday notice was given to all Peers, Peeresses, and Privy-Counsellors, for changing the mourning on Sunday the 15th instant. The ladies are to leave off crape hoods, shammy shoes [made of soft leather, or chamois], and gloves, and to wear black silk or velvet, fringed linnen, white gloves, black or white fans and tippets [long narrow scarves]; the men to leave off weepers [white strips of ribbon attached to sleeves], shammy shoes and gloves; and to wear black cloth with buttons of velvet, fringed linnen, black swords and buckles. [Grub-street Journal]

26 March 1730   Saturday, March 21. One Mrs. Ray, a maiden confectioner in Bishopsgate street, was buried last Sunday night in the Church of little St. Hellen’s, in the following manner, according to her will, viz. she was dress’d in a laced head, with a white top-knot, and white sarsnet [fine and soft silk material] hood, a lac’d holland shift, white kid gloves, a pair of white silk stockings with black clocks [ornamental patterns worked in silk thread on the side of a stocking], and a pair of white work’d Shoes trimm’d with black, and six elderly maids held up her pall. Enquiry was made a day or two afterwards, whether any grave robbers had paid her a visit, but it is presum’d they were engag’d on other business in the street, and had no intelligence of it, so that she was found to have laid quiet enough. She was buried in a black coffin with white nails, but no plate on it, by reason no body should know her age. [Grub-street Journal]

5 September 1730   Notice is given to all Peers, Peeresses and Privy-Counsellors, that the Court goes into Second Mourning, for her Highness Benedicta Henrietta, Dutchess Dowager of Brunswick and Lunenburg, to-morrow, for three weeks.
     The ladies to wear black silk, laced linnen, jewels, coloured fans and gloves. The men to wear laced linnen, coloured swords and buckles. (London Journal)

28 April 1739   Last week was buried the corpse of Mr. Sutton, late Keeper of Tothill Fields Bridewell, at whose interment the company was much disturb'd by a female publican, who having a short time before receiv'd a bad shilling of the deceas'd for a pint of wine, and on offering it to him to change was refus'd satisfactio, would force through the crowd to the grave, and flung it upon the coffin, with this sarcasm, That as he was going to Hell, there was something for a pint of wine upon the road. (Read's Weekly Journal)

Saturday, 16 June 1739   On Monday last died at his hosue at Hackney, aged near 90, Mr. Azariah Reynolds, the oldest Undertaker for Funerals in town; he was many years in partnership with Mr. Page. (Read's Weekly Journal)

25-27 March 1760 Lord Chamberlain's Office, March 25. Orders for the Court's change of mourning on Sunday next, the 30th inst. for the late Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel; viz.
         THE Ladies to wear black silk, fringed or plain linnen, white gloves, black and white fans and tippets, white necklaces and earrings.
         THE Men to wear black full-trimm'd, fringed or plain linnen, black swords and buckles.
         On Sunday the 6th of April the mourning to be changed again; viz.
         THE Ladies to wear black silk or velvet, coloured ribbonds, fans and tippets.
         THE Men to continue in black full-trimm'd, and to wear coloured swords and buckles.
         And on Sunday the 13th of April the Court to go out of mourning. (London Chronicle)

(Texts have been modernized with regard to capitalization, italicization, and punctuation, but original spelling has been retained. This edition copyright Rictor Norton. All rights reserved. Reproduction for sale or profit prohibited. These extracts may not be archived, republished or redistributed without the permission of the compiler.)

CITATION: Rictor Norton, Early Eighteenth-Century Newspaper Reports: A Sourcebook, "Funerals and Mourning Customs", 18 November 2001, updated 31 December 2005 <>

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