I could be typing here all night! There are certainly our fair share of “old wives tales” in funeral service. Most, like “saved by the bell”, are based on fact.
The first one that everyone wants to ask is “do they really cremate the coffin”? Yes they do. This is the absolute answer. Its simply impossible to lift a deceased body from a coffin, and somehow put it into a scolding hot cremator. Its just not possible, the body needs to be in the coffin.
Another one is “do we have to pay to take a deceased person through each county or parish”? Well, you used to have to do this, but not in my lifetime. And unless you are very old, not in yours either! You do have to pay approximately £1.50 per mile to transport a deceased person across the country, but only to cover the costs of fuel and vehicle running costs, and the time and therefore wages of two staff to take them where they want to go.
“Do you still put pennies on peoples eyes”? Answer NO. Although this did happen in the old (and I mean before my time) days. Now we use perforated eye caps, which keep the shape of the eye, and hold the eyelids so that they are closed when you visit.
“Do you tie their toes together”? NO. Absolutely NO. I still cant really work out why this would have been done. I have never done it, although I have seen it years ago in one or two old London Hospitals.
“What does a pallbearer do”? Well in recent years its very different to what the name implies. Originally the “pall” was a cloth used to cover the coffin from prying eyes. It was usually carried on sticks, by women, and it would cover the coffin and coffin bearers completely. Catholic funerals still employ a pall these days, and if you go to St Francis Church in Maidstone, you may well see one used at a funeral there. These days coffin bearers, are most frequently my own staff, but regularly family members want to do this bit themselves. Which we are very happy to accommodate!
Ask a modern funeral director why he carries a cane and my bet is he won’t have a clue. Ask me and I will tell you.
Don’t ask me why the horses used to pull a horse drawn hearse have those big blankets over them. Then I won’t have to tell you about Victorian ladies being embarrassed by seeing the male horses private parts on a funeral!
A really funny thing used to happen with the top hats. All the bearer staff used to wear them, and they used to be different heights to make the bearers look the same height. So some hats were much taller than others. Some did look funny. Never saw it myself though.
Saved by the bell. Well if you could afford it, many years ago, you could be buried with a piece of string in your hand. Just in case you had not actually died and were buried alive you could pull the string and it would ring a bell at ground level. You can imagine the scene. Its dark, misty too. The wind is blowing in the trees. Then a bell starts to ring….. I know what Ill be doing and it doesn’t involve any digging. Ill be off quicker than you are, of that you can be very sure. You have the spade!