Sunday, March 23, 2014

18th century umbrellas...and traditional burials

So my difficult-to-answer questions of this week are what did period umbrellas look like? I know they were heavy, cumbersome, and uncommon to see in London even in the 1780s (reading between the lines I conclude they were used outside the cities and/or by foreigners). In London they took covered conveyances when it rained and of course the men's greatcoats shed the rain. An umbrella was kept in the hall to convey women to the coach but was not used in walking about the city. Silk sun parasols were lightweight and common to see but were not made to withstand the rain.

The other question had to do with grave stones and monuments. In England people were buried (never cremated) according to strict custom and more or less according to wealth. If you could afford it, you would be interred IN or UNDER the church or in a family vault. The south side of the church was always popular. The north side was always damp and in shade, so it was a likely burial spot for the poor. Non-christians and unbaptised children had to be buried outside the churchyard. The rare suicide was buried at a crossroads with a stake holding them down (yes, even in England).
Perhaps its Gothic of me, but a Church cellar or aisle doesn't seem as good a setting for a scene as a graveyard. Besides, the Church is half-burnt. That's a different kind of scenic, I suppose.... I just need to find some period-correct examples of monuments/vaults.

Here's a few tidbits from Akenfield by Ronald Blythe. The village gravedigger in the last chapter is quite a character with decided opinions on how things ought to be done:

"When you bury a parson you always bury him re incumbent - the opposite way to everyone else. Everybody lies with their feet to the East so that when they rise they face the Lord. But a parson, you see, you bury him with his feet to the west, so that when he rises he faces his flock."

"Village folk have been buried over and over again in the same little bits of churchyard. You have to throw somebody out to get somebody in- three or four sometimes. I always put all the bones back so they lie tidylike just under the new person. They're soon all one."

I also read Jane Austen's England this week, good lot of information there even though I had to sift it carefully.
Here's an episode of BBC Cold Case (good series!) The Woman with Three Babies, where they discuss deviant burials in some detail. 

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