The Victorians and their fascination with death

The Victorians have become synonymous with inventiveness, exploration and rampant eccentricity, but one of their lesser known quirks was their obsession with death and given that the doctors at the time tended to be more enthusiastic than skilled and that the murderous Jack the Ripper plied his bloody trade in Whitechapel, who can blame them?

Here at Jack the Ripper tours, we have a real fascination with the creepier, messier and let’s face it, infinitely more interesting side of history. So, for your reading pleasure, we have gathered together some of the Victorians weirdest habits when it came to dealing with the afterlife.

Nightclubs…of Death!

Though today’s nightclubs are geared towards celebrating life, letting your hair down and generally enjoying yourself, there were a collection of nightclubs in Victorian times that actually celebrated death.

As morbid as it may sound, people would gather, drink and…contemplate the eternal darkness that awaits us all. The premise sounds like the very worst clichés of a Tim Burton film, but guests to these gloomy night spots were supposedly waited on by funeral attendees and monks, while all of the drinks being served had the names of contagious and fatal diseases and the tables were made of old coffins.

The etiquette…of Death!

Victorian life was largely dictated by strict codes of etiquette that had to be adhered to at all times; unfortunately for them, death was no different. Everything from attire, mourning and even the funeral itself was subject to stringent protocol which had to be followed to the tee.

When a person died, the mourning began in earnest; clocks were stopped, curtains drawn and the appropriate attire was sought. Though men of course were expected to wear black as a sign of grief, women, notably widows, were expected to wear a full length black gown complete with a black cap and full face veils for at least 2 years. Parents who lost a child were expected to mourn for 9 months, the death of a sibling was 3 months and relatives such as aunties, uncles and cousins warranted a minimum of 6 weeks.

As for the funeral itself, if you were not formally invited you could not attend. You were obligated to turn up precisely an hour before the funeral and during the service, men had to remove their hats and speaking above a whisper was strictly forbidden.

Clothing…of Death!

As mentioned, there was a very precise etiquette for how individuals should be dressed…and that wasn’t just for living. The Victorians had a curious habit of dressing their deceased relatives as they were in life (for which there was also a rigid set of rules) and then, disturbingly, taking photos with them as though they were still alive.

A man would typically be dressed in his Sunday best, while women and children were often clothed in white robes and caps. The photography element was known as memento mori and, as you might expect, resulted in some creepy family albums…

If you have an interest in local history and are no averse to a few ghoulish tales, then join us on our renowned Jack the Ripper tour! We follow in the footsteps of one of history’s most notorious killers and give you a real insight into the grimy underbelly of Victorian society!

Richard CobbRichard Cobb – has written 201 posts on this site.
Richard Cobb is a industry expert on everything Jack The Ripper, he is also the founding partner of The Jack The Ripper Tour which has become extremely successful over the last 3 years.

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