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Bygone Stanley - For Whom the Bells Toll

'FOR WHOM THE BELLS TOLL'

A funeral is always a sad occasion for someone. The 'Corpse Way' story gives one a good vision on how a corpse in 1827 was carried a distance of three miles or so to be buried in Wakefield. 100 years later, in 1927, the method of transport for a funeral had changed. We now had a fine, highly-polished, horse-drawn hearse - all black except the glass on all sides which was crystal-clear with white decorated 'in glass' flowers at each corner. The four wheels had brass hubs and were highly-polished. The horses were black with the harness of black leather with highly-polished brass attachments as were the brake shoes. The driver sat on his high seat dressed in black and had a tall hat and frock tailed jacket. Even the horses wore black ostrich plumes on their heads.

The undertaker stalked in front like a solemn crow. His first act on arrival at the deceased's home was to go inside and invite the mourners to have a last look at the corpse before the coffin lid was nailed down. Each nail was driven in with an almost slow-motion action, very silently. There was just a faint thud on each nail except for the last one, and as this nail entered it was with a great force and the coffin shuddered with the vibration. It was then carried to the hearse and placed in a specially designed cradle. Wreaths and sprays of flowers were then laid on the coffin and surrounding it.

The undertaker led the procession wearing his frock tail coat and top hat and, with a very slow walk, he looked very much in charge. En route all the houses had drawn curtains and as they came near to the cemetery gates the bells would slowly toll. The coffin was carried by the pallbearers into the church and the ladies, all in black, could be seen lifting up their black veils which covered their faces, and wiping tears from their eyes with black lace 'hankies'. As the coffin entered the church the bells would stop tolling and a bell with a dull sound would strike the number of years which the deceased had lived at approximately one stroke per second. All the village now knew that the burial service was to commence. The bell, known as the 'death bell' is now installed alongside the church clock and, by means of the necessary mechanical fittings, it chimes the hour.

Wearing black clothes to attend a funeral was so important that local tailors had an emergency service whereby they would make up a man's suit in 24 hours. The women for such a quick service usually helped each other, and there was a 'Miss Brown' in Lake Lock Road who had a quick service in making a black dress. For a few weeks after a family bereavement, all the close family of men wore black arm bands and a black tie. The women wore a black hat or dress. This period of mourning was to show respect to the dead.

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This page (bell.html) was last modified on Sunday 27/01/2013