Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 9/A Cumberland funeral


I well remember while staying at Penrith with my father, many years ago, a characteristic instance of an old-fashioned funeral as observed in that part. In the morning the town bellman tolled his three preliminary peals of the hand-bell before our inn, and proclaimed as follows:

“Oyez, Oyez, Oyez! this is to give notice that the funeral of Adam Lethwaite is to take place this day, and all friends and neighbours are invited to attend. The lifting to take place at twelve o’clock at noon precisely.”

At that time we proceeded to the scene of the funeral. Lethwaite was a very old man, and had enjoined that he should he interred strictly according to ancient usage. I dare say such observances are altogether forgotten now that a railway gradient crosses Shap Fell, but at that time they still lingered. The coffin was placed upon a deal table in front of the cottage which the old man had long tenanted, and upon it, over the breast, was a pewter plate containing salt, a type of the immortality of the spirit; a candle was placed on either side at the head of the coffin, and the table was strewed with sprigs of rosemary. The company gathered round the table, and the parish-clerk who attended raised a hymn in which they all joined; a dram of brandy was handed round, and after this the corpse was lifted, and each of the party took a sprig of the rosemary which he carried between his lips, and followed to the churchyard. Here the solemn service of the Church was pronounced, and after this the clerk led another psalm; then, before the sexton had begun to fill the grave, each stepped forward for a last look, throwing into the grave his sprig of rosemary, and the funeral rites were complete.

J. Wykeham Archer.