Tuesday, March 30

TombstoneTues: White Paper Gloves Signified "Virgin"

Nicola, distant cousin of Fred Beckett of "Who Was Fred Beckett?", discovered that when his youngest sister, Lucy Ellen Beckett, by then 67, sailed from England to Canada and back in 1949, her home address was "The Haven, N. Marine Rd, Flamborough, Bridlington".

The same address Fred had given for their mother when he came from Canada for a visit in 1927.

Now convinced Catherine Beckett had not been on holiday in
Flamborough during Fred's visit, and because one passenger
manifest listed "C of E" (Church of England) as his religion,
I looked up Flamborough's parish church.

St. Oswald Flamborough, nr Bridlington, East Yorkshire

As many UK village church websites do, St. Oswald's has a photo gallery of objects of interest. Scrolling down past the requisite baptismal font and historic rood screen, my eye was caught by the framed white gloves you see at the top of this post.

Hanging on the wall of the Vestry, they are paper, and "were last used in an old custom at the funeral of a Miss Major in 1761,
though a more graphic illustration of their purpose, to local minds, is served by an incident that happened a century ago. Then, a young girl and her betrothed went in search of the 'White Lady', a ghost supposed to inhabit Danes Dyke.

The outcome is not recorded but within a month the girl died. Her coffin was carried by women and, as was the custom at the burial of a maiden, the procession was lead by a girl carrying a pair of white paper gloves."

Raised in America, I'd never heard of this custom, so naturally I was curious.

A girl carrying the gloves seems to have been the exception rather than the rule. In most cases, a pair of white paper gloves was hung inside a garland of flowers ("wreath" to Americans).

White roses were preferred, but any fresh white flowers would suffice to signify the deceased had been a virgin at her death.

It was also the custom in many villages to write the name and death date of the deceased on the gloves so that later when the "garlands" were hung or otherwise displayed back at the church, they would act as a memorial.

Feel free to accuse me of living in a cave since birth, for I've only just learned before embalming came into wide use, surrounding a coffin with elaborate floral arrangements was a way to mask the odor of decomposition. Back when a body might remain in the family home for several days to give out-of-town family members time to travel to the funeral.

It also explains why just as often, in the absence of flowers or the money to obtain them, the deceased would be buried the same day or the very next, before the body had time to become "fragrant".

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Stephanie said...

Thank you for sharing such interesting information! I always learn some cool historical information here - from witchcraft to white gloves. Love it!

Blogaire said...

I also enjoyed your post and learned a little more about history and religion - really interesting!

CJ Stone said...

Hi JamaGenie, I used to live in Bridlington too. I think the white gloves custom is a little maudlin, don't you?

JamaGenie said...

Hi Chris! Why am I not surprised you used to live in Bridlington? Yes, the white gloves custom is a bit maudlin, but perhaps less so than some mourning customs I've run across. Wearing rings containing locks of the deceased's hair, for instance.

tony said...

I Know Bridlington quite well & I live fairly Near by(ish!).Let Me Know If You Ever need any local knowledge for your research.Regards.Tony.

Duchess of Tea said...

Darling popped in to wish you and your family a joyous and blessed Easter.

Love & Hugs