Whilst researching for the pipe dream I’m writing, I had to look into the world of the Victorian undertaker. I gathered as much information as I could, which was mostly on the subject of funerals, attitudes to death in Victorian culture and the mourning process – all very interesting and made for some good notes for the future, but not quite what I was after.
I found information regarding houses of mourning, such as the General Mourning Warehouse on Regent’s Street, London, and of course Jays, that sold the jet jewellery, black crepe, mourning gowns and veils and advised people on what was the latest fashion for a mourning widow etc, again, very interesting and duly noted, but still, as I sat down to write, something I needed wasn’t there.
I found information on funerals, coffins, carriages, mutes and burials. I read interesting stories of pauper funerals, parish funerals, upper class funerals and the process of registering the death. I read tales from grave-diggers, from mourners and from the bar that hosted the wake. Still, I thought, interesting but not quite bulls-eye.
I read tales of grief and woe and rituals &c but none of them hit the mark. Why?
Because what I was really looking for was the day-to-day tasks of an undertaker. What did they do on a daily basis? I know a lot of them doubled up as cabinet makers and had other trades that they could fit around the undertaking business, but what did a Victorian undertaker do from the moment he got up to the moment he went to bed? Frustratingly, I could find very little. What I need is some kind of diary of a Victorian undertaker. I can find nothing. I even tried asking at a few local undertakers, but they did not reply to my emails.
Almost all articles and info I could find, including a few words from Dickens, painted the undertakers as ghoulish and unsympathetic characters who profited from the death of peoples loved ones. I read that undertakers provided no personal advice or sympathy beyond their roles as tradesmen with a job to do, but the details of that job are frustratingly misty.
If anybody can help me with this I will be most grateful, I feel as though I have a jigsaw puzzle with a huge piece missing as I will struggle to create a convincing undertaker character without knowing the kinds of things he would have been doing. Even our thorough friend, Kron, The Little Londoner did not broach this subject!
Anything that you think may help, please leave in the comments box below, and do so with full and unreserved gratitude from me.