Tuesday 16 February 2010

How Much?!

In another of my occasional, random posts drawing on www.victorianlondon.org archives, here's an early Victorian (ok, very late Georgian) undertaker's bill, from Dion Clayton Calthrop, I Will be Good!, 1929.

Most Victorians considered a good funeral, full of pomp and ceremony, to be essential. This example below is certainly a rather well-fitted-out affair. I would guess it was for a middle-class household, given the cost of £50. If you want a comparison, this was the annual salary of many a working-class labourer. A decent clerk, on the other hand, might earn £300 pa.

November 1836

£ s d
For the Funeral of Wm. Beech, Esqr. a 6 foot 21 inch lid strong elm coffin lined and ruffled with fine cambric and pitched cambric and wool bed mattress 2 6 0
Mattress 0 10 0
Superfine cambric Shroud, Sheet, Cap and Pillow 2 2 0
Four men taking in do. 0 4 0
One outside strong elm case made to receive the above, covered with black cloth, nailed with best black nails, ornamented with japaned drops, double metal plate gloria turns, four pair of shield handles with wrought grips and finished in the best manner 6 15 0
Four men taking in do. 0 4 0
Cementing in the body and moving do. downstairs 0 7 6
Church fees 0 10 0
Moving ledger and extra depth 0 5 0
Early dues 0 7 6
Ringing the bell 0 5 0
2 Porters at the door in gowns, staves, silk covers, halberds and gloves 1 6 0
Hearse and four horses 2 16 0
2 Coaches and pairs 2 16 0
To fetching and taking home company 0 11 0
Use of a lid of best black feathers 0 18 0
To 15 plumes for hearse and horses 1 10 0
Do. for 4 coach horses 0 10 0
To Best Pall 0 10 0
To a set of Velvets for Hearse and four horses 1 2 0
Do. 3 Velvet Hamm cloths 0 10 6
Do. for four coach horses 0 10 0
Use of seven superfine cloaks 0 10 6
Do. for coachman 0 3 0
4 wands and 4 truncheons 0 2 0
8 Bearers to bear the body and attend the hearses and coaches 1 0 0
10 silk hat-bands for the company 4 0 0
11 pairs of Gents' best kid gloves 2 2 9
14 pairs of ladies' do. do. 1 5 0
1 crepe hatband 0 2 6
Full fittings for the Minister 1 11 6
Common fittings for the clerk and sexton 1 1 0
8 silk hatbands and gloves for the bearers 2 2 0
3 do. do. for coachman 1 10 0
3 men with the coaches and turnpikes in fetching company 0 3 0
8 Funeral letters, postage and delivery 0 4 0
Allowance for men at different times 0 6 6
Self-attending the funeral, hatband and gloves and man to assist 0 15 0
Packing case and carriage 0 2 6
Raising the stones in the churchyard 0 3 0
Inscription in ledger 0 10 6
Receipt stamp 3 13 7

£49 5 10

As you can see, undertakers capitalised on the desire for show. Here's a nice quote from journalist James Payn (anthologised in Lights and Shadows of London Life, 1867) recalling the lengths to which some went in the provision of mutes (and a passing insight into Victorian ideas of race/colour, while we're at it):-

    I remember being present at a certain funeral in those days-a "first class interment," it was called, in the jargon of the undertaker - where all the outward respect that could be provided for the sad occasion had been purchased without regard to expense. Gentlemen in dusky pairs, and overcome with costly emotion, preceded the long procession, each furnished with what looked like a folded telescope, as though they would have followed with their bodily eyes the supposed direction of the late flight of the fashionable spirit. Then a dusky gentleman alone, bearing a board upon his head with ostrich feathers on it, exactly as the Italian image-boys carry their frail wares. Then another group of telescope-bearers. Then a sort of (muffled) drum-major in the deepest mourning and despondency. After him the hearse itself, with a gentleman more than dusky - for he was a genuine black man - sitting beside the driver. The appearance of this person was calculated to excite sympathy even from the most callous spectator. He was bowed no less with years than with grief, and his short hair - which still retained the curl peculiar to his race - was as white as wool.
    I inquired of a relative of the deceased person who this individual was, for I did not remember ever to have seen him in that gentleman's household.
    "I dare say not," returned he; "for the fact is, I never set eyes on him myself before to-day. Mr. Mole, however, assured us that it would be the correct thing to engage him. 'An ancient and valued retainer of the family,' said he, 'is indispensable on such occasions as these, and a black man for this purpose is invaluable.' He is set down in the estimate at £3 16s., exclusive of the cambric handkerchief - which, to do him justice, he applies to his eyes as continuously as is consistent with exhibiting his complexion to the general public.

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