Thursday, July 30, 2015

Going To A Funeral With An Ormolu Gas Mantle

I was browsing through an old copy of the Dublin Evening Packet yesterday - as one does - when I came across a group of adverts that brought home to me the pace of economic and social change. The adverts in question were the first four listed on the front page of the paper and therefore we can assume provide a representative sample of the type of economic activity that was taking place 150 years ago. But like my Fancy Draper of the other day, these old occupations have been swept aside by the march of technology, washed over the waterfall of antiquity in the great Amazon jungle.

J D'Arcy Scrivener can no longer find employment copying out legal documents carefully and promptly, his efforts, his services and his enterprise having been flattened under the office photocopier. What nobility, clergy and gentry that are left (and considering recent goings-on in the House of Lords, that's very few), no longer need to make an appointment with Joseph Lennan of Dame Street to inspect his first-class saddles, harnesses and horses. They will not be buying a double Brougham from Robert Grady, making do with a Toyota Yaris instead. And neither Mr Gregg nor his son will sell many gas brackets or pendants - either in ormolu or prismatic crystal - this season.

Even if we go back just 100 or so years, we are still dealing with a very different society. An advert in the Yorkshire Post caught my eye (I really must have a word with the newsagent, the papers seem to be delivered later and later) for a splendid outpost of Victorian propriety - the Leeds Mourning Warehouse. It would appear that when your Auntie Betty finally pops her clogs all you need to do is to send a telegram to Frederick Forster and his response will be immediate: not with sympathy, nor a coffin - but with a new mourning suit for your butler.

Mourning was not something to be taken lightly (or cheaply) back in the Victorian age. Intrigued by the idea of a Leeds Mourning Warehouse, I did an online search and discovered this receipt - "for ready money" - for a variety of mourning goods I can't quite interpret. Let us hope that when the time came to read Auntie Betty's will, the expenditure of two pounds eighteen shillings and threepence was worth it.


  1. Perhaps 1 Bonnet, 1 Costume (which I think is an old fashioned version of a coat & skirt / skirt suit) and a Muff? I can't decide what the mystery F-- word is. Surely you wouldn't buy a fur specially for mourning would you?

    1. That makes it a very expensive bonnet. There was money to be made in mourning.


Black Friar

For a time, during the late 1970s, I had a job leading parties of foreign visitors on tours of historic London pubs. One of my favourite sto...