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Funerals in the first half of the 20th Century - a note by Betty Hill


First came the passing bell - a slow toll, then 3 for a child, 6 for a woman and 9 for a man. Then a guess as to who it was likely to be. For the relatives it was imperative to buy or borrow black; children if they went wore white with black sashes and hair ribbons. There was a memorial service for Queen Alexandra to which the schools went and we were asked to try and wear something black if it was only an armband.


When the day of the funeral came everyone drew their blinds or curtains in time for the cortege to pass, men in the street lifted their hats or caps and all bowed their heads. For those who could afford it Saxton's horse drawn hearse with black horses was hired. (Alf Saxton, when the fire engine was called out said 'Don't make my horses run, it will spoil them for funerals.') All funerals were followed by mourners on foot. When my father died his ex-employers asked to carry the coffin from the house.


If a baby of poor parents died they often asked if the baby could be buried with the next person who died. If the baby had a separate funeral sometimes children were asked to be the bearers.