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North Mymms people in Victorian times
by Peter Kingsford

Chapter 15
Laying them to rest

A funeral was an important event in the parish. In a small community the deceased was likely to be widely known. The desire to be decently buried and in accordance with what was right and proper for him or her was deeply felt. Appearances mattered and the style and the expense needed careful consideration. To be buried by the parish was the last indignity of the destitute. Above that level each family did what it could and whatever was thought appropriate to its station in life. "The desire to secure respectful internment of themselves and their relations is, perhaps, the strongest and most widely diffused feeling among the labouring classes of the population", wrote that middle class expert, Edwin Chadwick in the 1840s.

Much of this may be seen in North Mymms from the notebooks of Thomas and John Nash, master carpenters, builders and undertakers between 1894 and 1919. During those years they interned about four hundred and thirty persons altogether, three hundred and eighty of them in the parish. Many were children, about one in six.

Diphtheria, scarlet fever and measles were common. Expenditure on a funeral varied a great deal; for a child from l0s 6d to £2 2 6d, for an adult from £1 9 6d to £28 17 6d. In one year, 1900, the average cost for adults was £16 0 3d, and for children £1 16 4d. These sums should be compared with a labourerís typical wage of l8s a week.

Within that range the funerals were of many different kinds and corresponding expense. This depended on the three parts of the Nashes services - the style of coffin, the number of bearers and, most of all, on the type and number of vehicles. The first two the Nashes provided themselves. The coffins were made in their workshop, the bearers came usually from their own workmen dressed in the black suits provided. The vehicles they hired from an Islington firm, except for their machine coach and carts.

The cheapest, respectable funeral and the best which most of the parishioners could afford, was the walking funeral. No vehicles were required, the coffin being carried on menís shoulders from one of the hamlets all the way to the church. Over half of the funerals were of this kind. The use of a horse and cart for the infirm followers was slightly more expensive. Next came those in which, although there was no vehicle for the coffin, the mourners rode in some comfort. Their carriages varied; there might be one or two coaches with pairs of horses, or one or two broughams each drawn by one horse, or combinations of the two up to two coaches and two broughams.

The difference between those funerals and the rest was the vehicle for the coffin. The least expensive vehicle was the machine coach, which was also used for paupers. It was a four-wheeled horse drawn vehicle in which two couples sat facing each other, and the coffin was placed transversely in a space under the driverís seat. Next in price was the hearse, and it seems that there were two kinds, the glass one and the ordinary one. The hearse or machine coach funeral was not always the most expensive, for quite often there were no vehicles for the mourners.

When there were such vehicles the hearse was followed by an number of coaches up to six and broughams up to three. With the more humble machine coach the one horse brougham was more usual. Horses cost money to bring from Islington. They also had the incidental disadvantage that, being town animals, they would not cross the water splash on the road near Potterells but had to be brought round along Bulls Lane.

There were also differences in another item of cost, the style of coffin. Elm was not so expensive as oak, which was generally reserved for the well to do. Either kind could be with or without brass fittings or black fittings and with or without lining. The wood was polished for most funerals, but plain for the poorest. The cost of the bearers varied too. Their number ranged from one to eight (for long distances a change of bearer was necessary), and their payment from ls to 3s.

In a typical year, 1898, the humblest funeral of an adult had a plain elm coffin, a horse and cart and one bearer for £1 9 0d. Not infrequently the poorest parishioners could not afford even this sort of expenditure. They paid something by small instalments and the balance was often written off by the Nashes.

The grandest funeral was of Daniel Crawford, the Scots far-mer at Potterells in 1909. The bill of £28 17 6d was for "An oak coffin lined with silk with Brass Fittings complete and Funeral Attendance with Hearse, six coaches and pairs Bearers and Church fees Moving Stone Use of Plank at Grave and assistance in digging Grave." The most expensive one was of the former vicar, Rev Batty, in 1918 which, including conveyance from Potters Bar, came to £32 10 6d. Nashís prices rose about 50% during that first war, less than the general inflation.

Undertaking was only a minor part of the thriving business of master carpenter and builder. In a period of thirteen years, from 1895 to 1907, the Nashes submitted over three hundred and fifty estimates for work. It was of all kinds, in the parish and outside it, ranging from repairs to a pig stye at Potterells to half a dozen cottages for Admiral Sir John Fellowes.

Peter Kingsford, 1986


Index - North Mymms people in Victorian times
Preface - North Mymms people in Victorian times
Photographs - from the book

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