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Funeral Garlands in Matlock Church
The Matlock garlands have been considered to be the best in the country
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Funeral Garland, formerly at Matlock Church. From an engraving by Llewellynn Jewitt, F.S.A., approx 1860[1]

In St. Giles' Church there are some relics of romantic and historical interest, although the underlying reason for their existence is a sad one. There are some wonderful and very old funeral garlands, all that remain of a very old custom.

The garlands were described in the nineteenth century:

"From the cross-beams of the Church are suspended some funeral garlands, which it was the custom - now obsolete here - to deposit on the burial of young maidens, in accordance with a practice thus noticed by Washington Irving, as prevalent in remote villages. 'A chaplet of white flowers is borne before the corpse by a young girl, nearest in size, age, and resemblance, and is afterwards hung up in the church. These chaplets are sometimes made of white paper in imitation of flowers, and inside of them is generally a pair of gloves. They are intended as emblems of the purity of the deceased, and the crown of glory which she has received in heaven'. The allusions to the custom of laying "garlands on the hearse" are very frequent in the writings of the old poets"[2].

The Matlock garlands have been considered to be the best in the country. There are similar garlands to those at Matlock remaining at Ashford in the Water and Trusley and also at Ilam, just across the county border in Staffordshire. There used to be a garland at South Wingfield, but according to the twentieth century historian Crichton Porteous, it "was allowed to" disappear around 1940 or so[3].

Llewellynn Jewitt, writing in 1860 before Irving's comments were published in "Bemroses' Guide", said that the custom was of early origin and was usual in early Christian times. Carrying garlands "was observed in Yorkshire, Durham, Cheshire, Kent, Northumberland, and in most parts of the kingdom, and has been referred to by many of the old writers and dramatists" including John Marston ("Dutch Courtezan", 1605), William Sampson (on the death of Miss E. Tevery, 1636) and Anna Seward, who alluded to the custom being practised at Eyam in one of her poems[1].

Flowers have long been an emblem of purity. Stan Norris has reminded me that Shakespeare mentions garlands in "Hamlet" (Act 5, Scene 1). On Ophelia's burial the priest says to Laertes "Yet here she is allowed her virgin crants, her maiden strewments..." as a reassurance to her brother because she committed suicide. The presence of virginal crants at Ophelia's burial underlines her purity.

The Eyam garlands which Anna Seward had described were taken down and destroyed about 1830[5]. There is a reference to garlands at Edlaston church some time during the nineteenth century, but I am unable to provide an accurate date for this. There were also remnants of garlands at Hathersage in 1818[6] and Jewitt named several other Derbyshire villages where garlands had been displayed at some time; Lord George Cavendish, the local M.P., wrote to Jewitt at the time he was researching the custom and told him that garlands were preserved at Bolton Abbey.

It was Jewitt who produced the very first illustrations of funeral garlands when he wrote his article for "The Reliquary". He had been fortunate to see both Matlock garlands "which are, happily, preserved in the Museum of Thomas Bateman Esq.". They had been added to Bateman's collection when the church was restored in 1859[1, 7]. By the beginning of the twentieth century the six garlands that remained at St. Giles' Church were preserved in a glass case by the south west porch. Benjamin Bryan wrote that the Maidens' Funeral Garlands or Crantses were "all that remain of a much larger number that formerly hung under the old western gallery". He described them as "made of paper cut into rosettes and other patterns and ornaments. One garland contains the representation of a pair of white gloves"[4].

Describing the two garlands in Bateman's collection, which were very similar to those seen later by Bryan, Jewitt said they were "each composed of two hoops of wood, with bands crossing at right angles, and attached to the hoops; thus forming a kind of open arched crown. The hoops and bands are all of wood, wrapped round with white paper, and at the top is a loop for suspension". He went on to state that the flower on the smaller one (shown in the woodcut, above, left) rather resembled the Clarkia pulchella. The "paper ribband, gimped on the edges, and ornamented by diamonds cut out with scissors, hangs down to below the lower band, to which they are not attached. In this garland there are no gloves remaining".

The name of the female for whom such garlands were created was often written on either the glove, the collar or the handkerchief suspended from it. In the case of the Matlock garlands the names had faded by Jewitt's time[1]. The home-made tributes to young girls and women, who died before they could marry, were clearly lovingly made. Unfortunately, there is no know written record to say who these young Matlock girls were. However, very occasionally the female's identity is known. For example, in 1661 one Susannah Perwich is recorded as being buried at Hackney church and "the hearse ... [had] garlands upon it"[1].

 
Engraving of funeral garland at Matlock
From a woodcut by Llewellynn Jewitt, published first in The Reliquary[1] and later in Bemroses Guide[2]


This crantsey, which has been restored and preserved by the church, is made up of rosettes.
Photograph (c) Julie Bunting, 2001
Restored garland still owned by St. Giles' Church
Photograph © Julie Bunting, 2001

Jewitt thought the larger garland (shown top) was remarkably fine. The band were decorated with "paper flowers, or rosettes, intermixed with bunches of narrow slips, or shreds of paper; and at the top is a bunch of the same, over paper folded like a fan. ... In some parts the paper had been coloured red or blue". The gloves hang below the lower loop and there is a paper kerchief or collar "gimped at the edges and carefully folded"[1].

Crichton Porteous described the garlands remaining at Matlock church as being "only 12 or 14 inches high"[3]. He used the word 'crantses' for the plural, but when he described just one garland he called it a "crantsey".

In recent times the church has paid £600 for one crantsey to be conserved and this is now displayed in a glass case in the church. Sadly, conservation of this kind is a costly exercise and there is no further funding available for more, so the remaining five garlands have to be stored in a box. Julie Bunting, who writes for the "Peak Advertiser", was given permission by the Rector to photograph the restored garland and has very generously allowed her photograph to be published here. This crantsey is made up of rosettes. Whilst perhaps not quite as elaborate as the two drawn by Jewitt, it is a wonderful piece of social history for the church to have preserved. The restored garland (above, right) show that the decorations have clearly been wrapped round and tied to a framework that must have been bent to shape.


View even more about the church by clicking on the images below:

 
   

Written, researched by and © Ann Andrews.
Intended for personal use only.
With very grateful thanks to Sonia Addis-Smith, Julie Bunting and the Rector of St. Giles' Church, Matlock.
Images are:
1. Engraving of "Funeral Garland, formerly at Matlock Church" © Ann Andrews from "The Reliquary" (personal copy)[1].
2. Woodcut of "Funeral Garland, formerly at Matlock Church" © Ann Andrews from "The Reliquary" (personal copy)[1].
3. Photograph of restored garland still owned by St. Giles' Church © Julie Bunting, 2001.

Also see:
Derbyshire's Parishes, 1811 - descriptions of some of the parishes where garlands are known to exist

The Wishful Thinking site has more about Derbyshire's garlands and several pages are recommended reading (external links open in a new tab or window).
Ashford in the Water by Rosemary Lockie, and her page about the Crantz in Ashford Church
Julie Bunting's Take a look at ...
Crant1 } Rosemary also has photographs of the Crantz in Ashford Church.
Crant2 }

As for other church 'oddities', there's a picture onsite of a gargoyle in the Oxfordshire church of Ardington
Ardington Church - see the bottom of the section on the church.


References (coloured links go to on site transcripts):

[1] "The Reliquary, Quarterly Journal and Review Vol. I". (1860-1) Ed. Llewellynn Jewitt, F.S.A. Published London: John Russell Smith, 36 Soho Square Derby : Bemrose & Sons, Irongate. Jewitt presumably meant that the garlands he saw were owned by Thomas Bateman, Deputy Lieutenant of Derbyshire, a Justice of the Peace and landed proprietor at the time. He was a contributor to "The Reliquary".
[2] "Bemroses' Guide to Matlock, Bakewell, Chatsworth, Haddon Hall, &c" by John Hicklin, Third Edition, pub Bemrose and Sons, London (no date, but about 1869). Reproduced here with the very kind permission and help of Sonia Addis Smith.
[3] Porteous, Crichton "The Ancient Customs of Derbyshire", Derbyshire Countryside Ltd., Derby.
[4] Bryan, Benjamin (1903) "History of Matlock - Matlock, Manor and Parish" London by Bemrose & Sons, Limited.
[5] Letter to Jewitt from William Wood, "the historian of Eyam", dated 31 Mar, 1860 and quoted by Jewitt in "The Reliquary".
[6] Rhodes, Ebenezer "Peak Scenery" pub. London, Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, Paternoster Row. The 1818 version was quoted by Jewitt in "The Reliquary".
[7] Cox, J. Charles (1877), "Notes on the Churches of Derbyshire, Vol. II "pub. Chesterfield: Palmer and Edmunds, London: Bemrose and Sons, 10 Paternoster Buildings; and Derby. By the time Cox published his churched Bateman had died, but Cox said he was "of Lomberdale Hall". Kelly's 1891 Directory of Yougreave says more about the Bateman Museum (under Middleton).