top of page

An Undertaker's Chat to Victorian Funerals

James MacKeon (1859-1914) was Brighton's Undertaker and Mortician in the late 1800s. Like other Victorians of the day, he would have been concerned in proper mourning customs and his neighbors souls, as he prepared their bodies for "rest in peace."

What Victorians feared more than death itself

Victorians feared not being mourned properly. So, Mr. MacKeon offers the following advice (and Victorian Lore) to help make sure that doesn't happen.

Victorian Deathbed Beware Lore

Advice from a Brighton Undertaker:

  • Three knocks on front door (and no one there) is Death’s warning he will come for you soon.

  • Dying laid on a feather pillow (pigeon) to ‘prolong’ long to say goodbye, or if to end painful suffering, whipped away.

  • If lightning hits the house of a dying, the Devil has come to claim them.

  • The last name to pass on lips of dying, will be next to die.

  • Remove deceased feet first only, or they may beckon someone to follow in death.

  • After body passes over the threshold, drive a nail into the doorway to prevent ever returning as a spirit.

Victorian Musts Immediately Following Death

Advice from a Brighton Undertaker:

  • Cover all mirrors (& reflective surfaces), believed to be gateway to otherworld can steal and/or trap souls.

  • Stop all clocks in the house, releasing the deceased’s spirit (telling them their time if over.)

Place a bowl of salt near deceased’s chest, to ward away bad spirits. Loose flowers around body.

  • Crack a window after death, so soul can escape.

Victorian Musts on the Way to the Cemetery

Advice from a Brighton Undertaker:

  • Never point at or count # of carriages in a funeral procession, it foretells the number of days to your own death.

  • Take notice of which hoof the horse, drawing the funeral carriage, sets off on. The left, indicates a women will be the next to expire, and the right , a man.

  • After bad luck of meeting a funeral procession head on, touch a button on your clothes in order to stay ‘connected’ to life.

  • Wear black to a funeral as a sign of grief and respect, originally started to help a person blend in and escape Death’s notice.

  • Alter the funeral procession on the return home, to confuse the spirit from following and returning to the house.

Victorian Musts at the Funeral

Advice from a Brighton Undertaker:

  • Take comfort with the sound of thunder at a funeral, indicating the deceased’s soul has reached Heaven.

  • Avoid wearing NEW shoes to a funeral, which may taunt the Devil.

  • Bury the body with his feet facing east, so his head can see the sun rising to greet him.

  • Beware of weeds growing on a grave, indicating a bad life lived or blooming flowers, indicating a good life lived. (Probably doesn’t apply to dessert climates.)

  • Install a maze at the cemetery entrance to ensure ghosts turn away (able only to travel in a straight line).

  • Never whistle is a cemetery or you will summon the Devil.

Victorian Miscellany for Mourning

Advice from a Brighton Undertaker:

  • To cure a relative of drunkenness, put a coin in the mouth of a corpse. Later, remove it and drop into the drink of the drunkard.

  • Warn others with black ribbons (tied around living things, trees, pets, plants) of contagious disease.

Victorian Funeral Biscuit Recipe

A must for any proper Victorian "hostess" of a funeral get-together. Funeral biscuits pre-date the Victorian era back to medieval times. Funeral biscuits were eaten over the casket of the deceased to "eat their sins" so that they were ensured passage. It was also customary to pay a sin eater to perform the duty. No need to risk it yourself, unless you can't resist the sweet taste of this delicious cookie.

Funeral Biscuit Download

Download a copy of this recipe here.

Funeral Biscuit Recipe download FB
Download PDF • 582KB

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page