On April 11th 1811 a funeral procession made its way up Gray’s Inn Lane (now Road) to the New Burial Ground of the parish of St Andrew’s, Holborn. The burial ground is still there and is St Andrew’s Gardens now.
The funeral was that of Mr Edward Comely who had died five days earlier on the 11th April and it was “performed” by Samuel Page, Undertaker, Auctioneer and Appraiser of 232, High Holborn.
I have not been able to find out anything about Edward Comely, other than to deduce that the scale of his funeral and the fact that he lived in a City parish make it likely that he was in trade, probably a as merchant or shopkeeper. His executor who paid the bill, very promptly, on 18th April, was James Meycock, who was probably the same man who appeared as a plaintiff in a burglary case at the Old Bailey in 1809. He was a haberdasher in Broad Street in the adjacent parish of St Giles.
Under the handsome billhead with its picture of a black-clad woman mourning next to a tomb in a churchyard is the detailed account which paints a vivid picture of the details of an early 19th century funeral. Spelling and capitalization are as given in the invoice.
A Strong Elm Coffin covered with fine Black Serge close drove with double Rows of the best Japanned Nails on a Double Flowered Plate & Urn. 6 large Cherubim Escutcheons with wrought handles sett off and decorated with enriched ornaments chas’d and Blk Japanned in the best manner. Lined and furnished. £5 10s
A fine crape Mattress 12s
A fine Crape Shroud Cap and Pillow 18s
3 [?] with the Ditto 6s
Strong screws making up the Body [of the coffin] 3s
The use of a Handsome velvet Pall 7s
A Hearse and Mourning Coach with Pairs [of horses] each 12s
2 Coachmens Cloaks 2s
2 Hatbands and gloves for Ditto 10s
2 Porters in proper dresses to stand at the door and walk in procession 12s
2 Hatbands and gloves for Ditto 10s
4 men to Bear the Corpse 10s
2 Mourners Cloaks 3s
2 Hatbands for use of Ditto 2s
2 hoods and scarves 4s
A man attending the funeral 5s
A hatband and gloves for Ditto 5s
This totalled £13 16s but a discount of 13s 6d (for prompt payment perhaps?) was given.
Church service etc £4 7s
Paid to Mr Peckring (the clergyman?) £1 9s
The total bill came to £18 18s 6d
Price comparisons are notoriously difficult to make, but at this time a footman in a great house would expect to earn between £25 and £35 a year.
Catherine Arnold in Necropolis: London and Its Dead notes that undertaking as a specific trade developed in the 18th century, probably as a reflection of changing attitudes towards death by the middle classes who both wanted to show a refined sensibility by displays of mourning and meditation on death and also to reflect their growing wealth and confidence by a fine display.
The coachmen, coffin bearers, porters and the ‘man attending the funeral’ – presumably the funeral director’s representative – must all be correctly attired in black cloaks and gloves, with black bands on their hats and with long black scarves, the hearse would move at walking pace and passers-by would have ample opportunity to admire the coffin, draped in its hired velvet pall.
Mourning for the family and relatives would be another major cost to be considered, although that merits a post of its own. However, until I manage to collect all my images and scan them, here is “Evening Mourning Dress” from Ackermann’s Repository December 1810. The afflicted lady sits all in black and white, mopping her eyes next to a suitably funereal urn. Her jewellery is black jet. Although she has dressed formally for the evening she does not seem to be looking forward to socialising, poor thing.