Saturday, 7 February 2015

Bromley Funerals in the Georgian and Regency period

Bromley Archives is fortunate to possess funeral accounts from 1803 to the twentieth century of the funeral business of Dunns. From the begining of the 1803 accounts until the summer of 1830 Edward Dunn organised his funeral trade. In 1830 the accounts begin to lack detail some accounts are found in both folios 4 and 5 and by December Edward Dunn has died and is buried in Bromley.
From the beginning Edward's funeral business is clearly unlike the 3 groups of the funeral trade of the period namely coffin makers undertakers and funeral furnishers.
Edward makes and covers his own coffins for child burials and also acts as bearer for infant and child burials in his accounts as late as 1830. Although he commissions coffins from local named tradesmen the Dunn family business were noted as cabinet and furniture makers by this time having traded in drapery furniture and were upholders familiar with the "death trade". Edward is perfectly able to run simultaneously a large funeral and a child burial at Bromley on the same day. His accounts show a wide variety of nails used to line wooden and lead coffins for which he employed local named plumbers.
Edward is quite secific about the size of coffins;specifying one inch elm coffins in several accounts.
Edward Dunn fulfilled pauper burials from the Bromley parish poorhouse throughout the 27 years of his work recorded in his accounts; however sometimes on the same day he was also capable of conducting large funerals with up to 80 male mourners who in the tradition of the period would wear black cloaks,gloves favours and hat bands provided by Edward who also supplied the clergy Parish clerk sexton and bearers with the requested gloves for the funeral service in the church and churchyard. His accounts include hiring 80 cloaks from benefit clubs at various Inns in Bromley and in one case a reference to Freemasonry in Bromley. The Benefit Clubs are also paying for burials at Bromley in this period.
In his later folios it is possible to see that in addition to using local glovers in Bromley that he purchased gloves from Palmer and Company 80 Wood Street Cheapside "Best Town made[that is London] round seamed gloves at 0shillings 11d a pair" and black funeral habits for women from Old City Road.
It is known from accounts that Edward had a funeral hearse in Bromley but for upper class funerals he hired hearse and black funeral coaches often from William Bignall Furnisher of Funeral Carriages in Westminster.
There are recorded collections of bodies from London houses for burial at Bromley and similarly burial at several London burial grounds involving hearses and coaches and these seem to be priced at Bignall's rates of charge in each account.
Edward also employs bearers, coachmen,coach pages in full dress and carrying wands truncheons or staffs as required;mutes are also employed in several funeral processions for the well to do and a lid of feathers is provided in many of these accounts as well as a featherman to walk before the procession.
Whereas it is possible in Georgian and Regency funerals to categorise those in the death trade as either undertaker or funeral furnisher Edward Dunn emerges as one whose family business had existed in Market Square Bromley since 1710 and was highly respected furnishing many large houses in North West Kent. His accounts indicate that he was fully conversant with conveying a body hearse coaches and mourners as far afield as Sussex, "six miles north of Hoddesdon" or parts of Essex with Edward on horseback accompanied by an assistant to personally supervise a burial. His accounts therefore demonstrate a detailed practical ability to accommodate the wishes of any class of person requesting burial.
Bromley was home at Bromley and Sheppards Colleges to the widows and orphans of deceased clergy. Funerals therefore not only involved parish clergy but the chaplains and the presence of the Bishops of Rochester at Bromley Palace added to the need to inter family members and Bishop's in vaults beneath the church.
Edward's accounts also detail work in the catacombs beneath the church to find burial for influential families as well as clergy including the Bishops of Rochester.
In the early years of his accounts burial in the churchyard is relatively conventional a grave being dug to a depth of 6 to eight feet to accommodate anticipated future family burials. However from around 1817 we see that Edward who was appointed sexton in that year adopt a process which ensures that no recent burial in the churchyard is disturbed.
I have blogged about the theft of burials at neighbouring Beckenham churchyard see The Beckenham Resurrectionists. To prevent such occurrence entering Bromley parish Edward adopts a strategy of having extra deep graves dug shored up by oak beams and the head end of the grave to have a hole to lower the coffin onto straw. in several accounts iron bars are also in place to secure the coffin and straw and earth are used to back fill the grave which is immediately returfed. Edward also pays the parish beadle to watch the church yard. The parish beadle in Bromley was armed; there are accounts of escorting felons from the Cage at Bromley to the Assizes armed with a blunderbuss and the lych gate at Bromley also could accommodate watchers for the churchyard which is close to the town centre.
Despite the challenges in excavating graves to a depth of sixteen or seventeen feet the accounts describe sealing the graves by a puddling in process;brick graves are also excavated to exact dimensions and Edward provides a timber centre for forming brick graves in the floor of the church or in the churchyard.
From 1817 the accounts record the work as sextons of both Mister  and Mrs Smith and Mister Carpenter. On several occasions Mrs Smith is paid sextons fees for both opening vaults in the church and graves in the churchyard.
Edward also regularly employs named women probably midwives to sit overnight with the deceased after washing and dressing bodies for burial.As we also have at Bromley Archives the medical practice ledger of Doctor Thomas Ilott who records using midwives to assist in delivery of children it appears that both Dunn and Ilott are paying the same women.
Mrs Dunn is also actively involved in the business. She makes mourning attire for several women and is responsible for fitting women with mourning dress and gloves of various materials.
Coffins for children and teenagers are made of elm and covered with material. Individual child burials specify white material or white coffin handles. Often in Bromley where a child or teenager is buried in a black material covered coffin white lace is attached to coffin handles and as I have transcribed all of the accounts the attention to detail of Edward and his wife has left an impression of care for the individual and grieving family.
Edward does not appear to be part of the trade at that period which used poor timber to construct coffins to be covered with cloth or material. His specifications repeatedly suggest that only "best" was to be used in nailing,timber,plates of inscription, lead coffins,coffin handles. Long after Edward the Dunn business continued to have a reputation for quality whether in the furniture trade. house removal furniture depository or it seems funeral business which grew on the foundation built by Edward.