Mourning conventions sparked demand for Honiton's black lace

Honiton Museum black lace

Wearing black ‘widow’s weeds’ led to a demand for black Honiton lace, as displayed in Honiton museum - Credit: Honiton Museum

Most of the country was changed in the 18th century by the  industrial revolution. The 20th century created a whole industry around health and safety and during  the 19th century manufacturing centred around death, funerals, and mourning.

Victorian rules for mourning were complicated and strict but did not apply as much to men as they did for women. Men wore a black crape armband (on the left arm, three inches wide, above the elbow) for three months. 

Following Prince Albert’s death in December 1861, Queen Victoria insisted that  her staff would wear black for a year and dignitaries would wear mourning attire to social occasions for the next three years. Queen Victoria wore black and remained in mourning for the rest of her life.

Wearing black ‘widow’s weeds’ led to a demand for black Honiton lace, as displayed in Honiton museum. Dying white cotton or linen thread was unsuccessful so black silk thread was used and made lace making difficult. 

A widow would mourn in three stages.  Deep mourning lasted for a year and a day after her husband died.  She  had to dress entirely in black, wear a black crape veil which covered her face, carry black accessories and wear jet jewellery. She could only leave her home to go to church or to  visit  close relatives. 

Second mourning lasted between nine and 12 months and the veil could be lifted back. A widow  could  now visit close friends.  During the third year a widow could wear the ‘half mourning’  colours of grey, white, or purple. Children usually wore white as mourning dress. 

Amanda Mitchell ran a Mourning Warehouse in Honiton High Street and William Banfield of the Dolphin advertised his services as an undertaker and the hire of his hearses and mourning coaches. The Honiton Union invited tenders from tradesmen willing to supply  coffins for the workhouse.

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Mirrors were covered indoors, and a yew wreath was hung on the front door to alert neighbours that a death had occurred. While a funeral took place in Honiton,  businesses  closed and households  kept their  curtains closed as  a mark of respect for the deceased. A muffled peal at the end of the funeral service signalled reopening to the town.

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