immortelles

These usually consist of ceramic flowers and other items under a glass dome, protected by a wire cage.

 

 

 

 

Immortelles are extremely difficult to photograph because the glass domes reflect light from any direction. These were taken in low-light conditions.

 

 

This page includes:

  • definition
  • description
  • date
  • adverts
  • reports in Newspapers
  • distribution in graveyards
  • type of grave on which immortelles are found
  • distribution
  • survival
  • source of the domes
  • John Bunyan’s grave, London

Definition
Immortelle is a term applied to

  • a particular species of flower which, when dried, lasts for a long time;
  • an arrangements of fabric and beads laid on, or hung by a grave
  • ceramic flowers, normally preserved under a glass dome and placed on a grave.

This page deals with ceramic flowers under glass domes.

Description
By far the majority of immortelles are under hemispherical glass domes of various sizes but mostly about 30cms in diameter.
The base of many of the domes are in a metal band and they are normally covered by a wire cage to protect the glass from damage.
They contain some or all of the following:

  • flowers and leaves, a pair of clasped hands and a dove  made of white unglazed porcelain.
  • a plaque on which a message has been written by hand or inscribed. Many plaques are now completely faded.
  • metallic leaves, sometimes coloured, arranged around the base. These appear to be either a light alloy or galvanised iron – some of which appear to be rusty.

Immortelle with a plaque in Welsh ‘Er cof am ein annwyl Fam oddi wrth ei phlant’ (In memory of our dear mother from their children). The metal plaque attached to the wire frame is a graveyard plot number.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An immortelle which has lost its dome. The plaque was inscribed ‘In Affectionate & Loving Remembrance from His Wife & Family’

Date
It might be assumed that immortelles in glass domes date to the Victorian period but the majority of surviving examples appear to date from about 1900 to 1950. However, adverts for them (see below) date back to at least 1884
Some are on graves which contain earlier burials but may have had immortelles added when they were reused. A very small number of immortelles containing fabric flowers have been seen on graves dating to the late 20th century.

Adverts

Florists’ and funeral furnishers’ adverts sometimes listed glass shades (or occasionally glass domes). Examples from Abergavenny, Cardiff, Merthyr and Swansea in South Wales and Aberystwyth in mid Wales have been found in 19th and early 20th century Welsh newspapers dating back to 1884 (a search for similar adverts in English newspapers has not been made).

WREATHS FOR GRAVES.
PALMER AND COMPANY
(ESTABLISHED 1852)
Beg to notify that they keep a Choice Selection of
PORCELAIN AND METALLIC WREATHS,
With or Without Glass Shades.
FUNERAL FURNISHERS,
10. 11, & 105, FREDERICK-STREET, CARDIFF.
South Wales Daily News, 8th April, 1884 (and subsequently)

 

Many florists advertised just before Palm Sunday and Easter Day to mark Sul y Blodau (Flowering Sunday)

Charles Phillip LOADSTONE, the LADY FLORIST (Registered 6½,
OXFORD STREET, SWANSEA.
FLORAL SOUVENIRS for FLOWERING SUNDAY & EASTER, 1889.
A BEAUTIFUL WREATH, CROSS, or ANCHOR
of Choice White Flowers, most tastefully arranged,
and sent to any address in Airtight Boxes on receipt
of 5/6, 7/0, 10/6, 15/6, 21/ and upwards. Price
naturally regulates size and quality.
Wreaths in Immortelles, China, or Porcelain, in
any design ordered.
Also splendid Stock of GLASS SHADES, in all sizes.
CUT FLOWERS in profusion and every variety.
POT PLANTS, most suitable kinds, from 6d.
Orders are now being BOOKED for above and
LOADSTONE trusts all who intend to patronise her
will bespeak their orders EARLY, as last year the
pressure was so great it was impossible to serve all,
and Booked Orders are made and delivered early in
the day, and secure the BEST FLOWERS and BEST
ATTENTION.
Boxes of white Flowers and Fern from 5/6.
Telegraphic and postal Address,-LOADSTONE, SWANSEA.
The Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser, 5th April 1889

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PALM SUNDAY.
FOR WREATHS, CROSSES, AND CUT
FLOWERS, ARTIFICIAL WREATHS, AND
GLASS SHADES,
GO TO
J. GRAY, SEEDMAN AND FLOURIST,
6, GLEBELAND-ST., MERTHYR
Merthyr Times and Dowlais Times and Aberdare Echo, 9th April 1897

 

REPORTS IN NEWSPAPERS OF PLACING FLORAL TRIBUTES UNDER GLASS AT FUNERALS
Funeral reports and obituaries sometimes include a list of floral tributes, among which are floral tributes under glass shades. It is interesting to note that most of those reported in newspapers were placed by organised groups rather than individuals, in churchyard, chapel graveyards and municipal cemeteries. Most of the reports are of funerals in south Wales.

1884
Wrexham, new cemetery
an exquisite wreath under a glass shade, specially subscribed for by the British School pupils of the first class
Wrexham and Denbighshire Advertiser and Cheshire, Shropshire and North Wales Register, 16th May 1884

1890
THE LATE MR C. EDWARDS of Acre Fair, Welsh Calvinist Methodist, Trefynant cemetery, Wrexham
…. Also the bearers contributed a handsome wreath of solid white porcelain with glass dome case.
Wrexham and Denbighshire Advertiser and Cheshire, Shropshire and North Wales Register, 25th January 1890

1892
St David’s Church, Pantassaph
enclosed in a glass shade was a wreath ‘In affectionate remembranc’e from the Monks Kirby Cottagers
Flintshire Observer Mining Journal and General Advertiser, 17th March 1892

1893
Llanwrda Church
beautiful everlasting wreath in glass shade, from the school children
The Carmarthen Journal and South Wales Weekly Advertiser, 8th September 1893

1901
Maenclochog. Tabernacl, Mr Hughes, buried at Jerusalem Congregational Chapel, Burry Port
He was Past Chief Ruler of Rechabite Tent of the District. His fellow-members also presented a beautiful artificial wreath under a glass shade to be put upon his grave.
The Welshman, 5th April 1901

1901
English Wesleyan Church at Carmarthen; St David’s Churchyard
How very much his services were appreciated by the local Wesleyans and the members of the Salvation Army, may be seen by the fact that both denominations sent beautiful artificial wreaths in glass shades; one bearing the inscription In Loving Memory: From the officers, teachers, and scholars of the English Wesleyan Sunday School,” and the other “A Token of Respect and Deepest Sympathy from his companions,” and “A sincere tribute of affection from his friends of the Salvation Army.”
The Welshman, 12th April, 1901

1902
Baptist Burial Ground, Fishguard
a beautiful floral token in glass shade
The Pembroke County Guardian and Cardigan Reporter, 15th March 1902

1903
Llandinam Churchyard
The teachers and scholars contributed a very handsome wreath with a glass shade for the grave of their little schoolmate. They also made a large cross and two wreaths of primroses as a tribute of affection to her memory.
The Montgomeryshire Express and Radnor Times, 14th April 1903

1904
Prendergast Church, Haverfordwest
A beautiful metallic wreath with a glass shade and wire screen was laid on the grave by the scholars of the Sunday school.
The Welshman, 20th May 1904
The Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser, 20th May 1904

1910 Capel Sul [Kidwelly]
Amongst the wreaths sent was a very large one under a glass dome “With deepest sympathy from the Millmen, Shearers and Openers at the Gwendraeth Works.”
The Welshman, 24th June 1910

1913
Abergwili Church, Carmarthen
Penuel Choir placed a floral tribute in a glass shade
The Carmarthen Journal and South Wales Weekly Advertiser (First edition), 15th August 1913

1915
Ammanford, Ebenezer burial ground
A glass shade had been sent by the workmen of the Ammanford Collier
The Amman Valley Chronicle and East Carmarthen News, 21st January 1915

1915
Moriah C.M. Cemetery, Brynamman, Llandadarn
A beautiful wreath in a glass shade, with inscription was received from his little friends “In loving memory of our dear little friend Morlais”.
The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, 21st May 1915

1918
Neyland Cemetery, Congregational
glass shade, from his fellow workmen G. W.R., Neyland; glass shade, from Hepzibah Baptist Chapel and Sunday School, Little Honeyborough.
Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph, 25th December 1918

1919
CWMCWRACH, Addoldy Chapel.
Glass shade from Pontycymmer Co-operative
The Aberdare Leader, 8th November 1919

 

Distribution in graveyards
In many cemeteries, immortelles are generally found near each other, especially those in which new graves were located next to the most recent burials. 19th century graves were often covered either by a flat slab or headstone and grass, as are many graves which date from the mid-20th century. It seems that many early to mid 20th century graves were enclosed by curb stones and it is on these that immortelles are normally found.

Type of grave on which immortelles are found
Most of the 233 immortelles I have seen are placed over graves which are bounded by curb stones. The area within this is often covered with a thin layer of cement, concrete slabs or stone slabs (to prevent the growth of plants) and ‘gravel’. They are not normally found on graves covered in a single large polished stone slab or grass but it is possible that they have been removed from the latter to facilitate mowing: broken glass domes and their contents create a serious hazard to grass mowers, especially when strimmers are used.
It is not unusual for some graves to have more than one immortelle, usually when it contains more than one burial.

Distribution in the UK
The 233 immortelles I have seen were in 23 church and chapel cemeteries and graveyards in different parts of Wales. One large municipal cemetery in Aberystwyth and a medium sized church graveyard at Strata Florida each have 37. A few graveyards have between 10 and 20, while the remainder have one or two. 32 graveyards I visited had no immortelles at all.
It is possible that their distribution was influenced by what undertakers had to offer.
They have been found on graves in England but appear to be rare. The apparent large number in Wales might simply be that I (and apparently no one else) have made an attempt to record them, but it is possible that it reflects the custom in Wales of placing flowers on graves. This was almost unique to Wales (at least within the UK) until the growth in the number of large town trust and municipal cemeteries in England and Scotland from the 1830s.

Survival
  
About half of the immortelles seen so far are in good condition with complete domes and wire covers.
The contents within unbroken domes are usually in good condition but the domes attract condensation enabling vegetation to flourish within them, covering up the contents.
Once the glass is broken the contents, which are very fragile, generally survive, occasionally scattered within the confines of the curb. The wire covers are rarely missing but some are rusty.
A few former immortelles are represented only by a circle of metal and a few scraps of broken ornaments. In one case, just a white porcelain bird remained.

Source
The similarity of the size and contents of many of the domes suggests that they may have come from just a few manufacturers and is possible that they were mentioned in undertaker’s adverts and publicity material but no information about either of these has been found.

John Bunyan, who died in August 1688 was burried in Bunhill Fields, Isslington, London. A floral tribute under a glass dome was placed on his grave on an anniversary of his death.
A wreath of artificial flowers that resembled nothing in nature, lay covered by a glass shade, and, partly buried among them, was a card with a written dedication, of which the following was alone visible: “Anniversary of his death, Aug. 31, 1890. by A. R V. and a few spiritualist friends, as a token of grateful thanks for his spiritual guidance I asked the gatekeeper how it had come there. “Two ladies put it there on Sunday,” was his reply. “A gentle man as come here yesterday said as ‘ow it oughter be smashed.”
The Cambrian (newspaper), 9th January 1891