Victorian Cemeteries and Death

I love the peace and quiet of old Victorian cemeteries. I can spend hours reading the inscriptions on tombs and headstones and marvel at the magnificent carvings of statues.  I love it even more when I come across an old tomb that invites me in closer to reveal its hidden past.

Winter Cemetery

Winter Cemetery

It pains me to see how boring and bland our cemeteries are becoming.  Why would anyone want to be laid to rest in a place where all the headstones are pretty much uniform?

Our cemeteries are losing character.  The Victorians had the right idea when they lavished the grave of their dearly departed with monuments and statues so that they wouldn’t be forgotten.

Warrington Skull Crossbones Grave

Warrington Skull Crossbones Grave by Amanda Norman Photography

Even before the Victorian era, craftsmen were carving death heads and skull and crossbones onto headstones that have stood the test of time.  A skull and crossbones was a Memento Mori, in other words, it’s a reminder that our own mortality doesn’t last.  Death will come to us one day soon.

St James Cemetery Infrared

St James Cemetery

I want to walk into a cemetery and feel its character.  The cemetery above has lots of eerie character, but did you notice the headstones that are laid against the wall?

If I was to be buried, the purpose of burial is for my grave to stay intact for an eternity.  The Victorians built their cemeteries as parks and would regularly stroll amongst the dead.  Now we have authorities ripping up headstones and turning these once magnificent cemeteries into a park with absolutely no character at all.  As for the newer cemeteries, well I just don’t feel like they hold any beauty or history these days.  All of the headstones are pretty much uniform.  They don’t have fascinating inscriptions or carvings that make you think and wonder what it was like long ago.

It’s a shame, but the upkeep of these Victorian cemeteries is more than likely down to funds.  Generations have moved on and therefore there is no one to pay for the maintenance of the elaborate stonework.  The beautiful carved statues are crumbling away and what will we be left with?

This is one of the reasons why I love creating graveyard and cemetery photographs and I’m more than happy to work with cemetery friend groups to help them raise funds for preserving them.  If you feel the same way as me and you manage a Victorian cemetery, then please get in touch.

The Victorians certainly had their own fascinating customs when it came to death.  I’ve included a few of my favourites below and I would love to read your feedback.

Victorian Death Photo

Deceased girl sat to the side on a chair so that a stand can support her body.

Victorian Death Photographs

The Victorians photographed their dead prior to burial.  I find these photographs intriguing and it would be thought of as totally shocking in this day and age to prop up a dead person, paint eyes on their eyelids so that they would look awake for a photograph to be taken.   They took so much time to paint their faces and make them look beautiful for the portrait to be taken as a keepsake.  The Victorian girl pictured to the left more than likely died of mumps, which was a big killer in the Victorian times.

The image I have used here comes from a Pinterest board titled Victorian/Vintage Death Photos – So Fascinating.  Please click on the link for further information and follow them for new additions.

Victorian’s and their Death Superstitions

As soon as there was a death, all mirrors in the home would be covered in case the spirit of the deceased became trapped in the glass.

Clocks would be stopped or else it would bring bad luck.

The custom of ‘waking’ involved watching over the body every minute until burial, which would last 3-4 days.  This would also serve as a safeguard should a person be in a coma.

Curtains were drawn to prevent the soul leaving before the funeral.

The dead were carried out feet first to prevent the spirit from looking back into the house and beckoning others to follow.

‘Saved by the bell’ comes from the fear of being buried alive.  Coffins would have a bell connected to a chain so that one who wakes could sound an alarm.

Flowers would bloom upon a grave of someone who had a good spirit/life.  So if you see only weeds, stay well clear as they could have been bad or evil.

Hearing a clap of thunder following a burial indicates that the deceased’s soul has reached Heaven.

If you smell roses when there are none around, someone is going to die.

If you don’t hold your breath whilst walking past a graveyard, you will not be buried.

If a bird pecks your window or crashes into one, there has been a death.

If a picture falls off the wall, there will be a death of someone you know.

A single snowdrop in a garden foretells a death.

It’s bad luck to cross a path of a funeral procession and if this couldn’t be avoided, you had to hold tightly onto a button to ward off some of the negative effects.

Cemetery Hill

Glasgow Necropolis by Amanda Norman Photography


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