death and burial

A number of customs relating to death and burial were noted by tourists and others as being unique to Wales. It is possible that, like some other customs, they survived in Wales longer than in other parts of the British Isles and may not have been practiced throughout Wales.

This page inculudes contemporary descriptions of funerals and funeral customs.

Catrin Stevens has published much on customs associated with death and burial:

Stevens, Catrin, ‘The Funeral Wake in Wales’, Folk Life, vol 14, (1976)
Stevens, Catrin, ‘Marw ym Mhenfro’, Llafar gwlad, 13 (1986), p. 16-17.
Stevens, Catrin, Cligieth, c’nebrwn ac angladd: hen arferion marw a chladdu yng Nghymru (1987)
Stevens, Catrin, ‘Yr hen ffordd Gymreig o farw a chladdu’, Cof Cenedl, 9 (1994), p. 97-128
Stevens, Catrin, ‘The Funeral Made the Attraction’: The Social and Economic Functions of Funerals in Nineteenth-century Wales, in Gramich, Katie, and Hiscock, Andrew (Eds), Dangerous Diversity, (University of Wales Press, 1998)
Stevens, Catrin, The ‘burial question’ Welsh History Review, Vol. 21, no. 2 (Dec. 2002), p. 328-356  (Deals with the conflict concerning the  burial of non-conformists in Anglican cemeteries, and the campaign for a reform of burial law.)

see flowers on graves for details of the customs of placing plants, including flowers, on graves

see churchyards

Descriptions of funerals and funeral customs

 

1739
Detailed description of the funeral of Lord Bulkeley of Baron Hill, Anglesey (died 15th March, buried 24th). The 18 bearers were provided with scarves, bands and gloves and had their fingers measured for rings and were served with cake and wine. ‘There was used on this occasion that Popish superstition of this country of giving meat and drink and money over the corpse with black wooden Bowls to receive the drink …I gave the minister 5s and 2s to the clark, as all the bearers I presume likewise.’
Owen, Hugh, and Griffiths, J.E., ‘The Diary of William Bulkeley, of Brynddu, Anglesey’. Anglesey Antiquarian Society and Field Club Transactions, (1931), pp. 62-63

1742
Description of the funeral of Mrs Meyrick of Bodorgan at Llangadwalader, 4th April. ‘The bearers were fitted with scarfs etc. … 2 men in black cloaks carrying in their hands black poles with black silk scarves tied to the top of them … Mr Meyrick’s tenants having gloves and hatbands.
Owen, Hugh, and Griffiths, J.E., ‘The Diary of William Bulkeley, of Brynddu, Anglesey’. Anglesey Antiquarian Society and Field Club Transactions, (1931), pp. 71-72

1747
Brief Description of the funeral of the diarist’s sister, 7th November. ‘12 bearers, 9 of these wore cloaks … I gave the priest 5s for myself and 1s for my mother. ’
Owen, Hugh, and Griffiths, J.E., ‘The Diary of William Bulkeley, of Brynddu, Anglesey’. Anglesey Antiquarian Society and Field Club Transactions, (1931), p. 74

1751
Brief description of the funeral of the diarist’s son on December 27th. There were 6 bearers, and Gloves and hat bands given to about 50 people
Owen, Hugh, and Griffiths, J.E., ‘The Diary of William Bulkeley, of Brynddu, Anglesey’. Anglesey Antiquarian Society and Field Club Transactions, (1931), p. 80

1770
The evening preceding the burial, they have what they call WYL-NOS, i.e. the night of lamentation. All the neighbors attend at the house of the deceased, the minister, or in his absence the clerk of the parish, comes and prays over the dead, and psalms are sung agreeable to the mournful occasion. This it may not unreasonably be supposed, is the remains of the Romish superstition of requiems for the souls of the deceased. How ever there is nothing improper in the custom if conducted with decorum and devotion, which is not always the case. At the funeral, the relations and friends of the deceased make presents, to the officiating clergyman, and the clerk of the parish. These offerings are altogether voluntary, generally proportionable to their circumstances, and the respect they bear to the memory of their departed friend. In some populous parishes, the offerings are very considerable, and constitute a great part of the profits of a living. There is no doubt but that this is likewise a relict of the Popish custom, of giving money to their priests, for praying that the soul of the deceased may be relieved from purgatory.
Anon, Letters from Snowdon, descriptive of a Tour through the Northern Counties of Wales containing the Antiquities, History and State of the County; with the Manners and Customs of the Inhabitants. (London, 1770), pp. 75-76

1772
they have a peculiar method in their burials as they neavaur? [never] lay a man and wife in the same grave so hear it is needless to dye for love in case your spouse should go before for in the grave you will not be united but if you are? worthy? the ???????? will be lay upon you if that ?????? be got [.]
Anon, [tour, Milford Haven, 1772-1773] Pembrokeshire Record Office, HDX/81/4, p. 8

1775 Bangor
Funeral in Bangor Cathedral
Campbell, Thomas, Rev, Clifford, J.L., Dr Campbell’s Diary (Cambridge, 1947), p. 36

1775 Ewenny
{Mr Saunders informed him} that mortuaries are not given here at funerals as in north Wales.
‘That burying in coffins has not always been practiced here. The superstitious story of Corpse candles is believed as also a kind of second sight such as that of seeing the figure of a ship previous to a wreck and the whole funeral procession as it is to be at a future burial.
Grose, Francis, [Journey to South Wales, 1775] British Library, Add. MS. 17398, f. 79

1775 Bishop’s castle
The church is a mean structure … some of the poor will strew Greens or flowers over the graves of their departed Friends for a few weeks. The custom that prevails in north Wales of making Oblations of money at funerals is here unknown.
Sir Thomas Gery Cullum, NLW MS 5446B (20th century transcript of tour journal), p. 145

1775 Dinas Mawddwy
The [church] Service is here always in Welch, and the Clergyman receives funeral Oblations.
Sir Thomas Gery Cullum, NLW MS 5446B (20th century transcript of tour journal), note on f. 148v

1796
Includes a description of a funeral
Plumptre, Bell, Montgomery; or, scenes in Wales. (London, 1796), pp.??

1770s
Previous to a funeral, it was customary, when the corpse was brought out of the house and laid upon the bier, for the next of kin, be it widow, mother, sister, or daughter (for it must be a female) to give, over the coffin, a quantity of white loaves, in a great dish, and sometimes a cheese, with a piece of money stuck in it, to certain poor persons. After that they presented, in the same manner, a cup of drink, and required the person to drink a little of it immediately. When that was done, they kneeled down; and the minister, if present, said the Lord’s Prayer: after which, they proceeded with the corpse; and at every cross-way, between the house and the church, they layed down the bier, knelt, and again repeated the Lord’s Prayer; and did the same when they first entered the church-yard. It is also customary, in many places, to sing psalms on the way; by which the stillness of rural life is often broken into, in a manner finely productive of religious reflections.
To this hour, the bier is carried by the next of kin; a custom considered as the highest respect that filial piety can pay to the deceased. This was a usage frequent among the Romans of high rank; …
Among the Welsh it was reckoned fortunate for the deceased if it should rain while they were carrying him to church, that his bier might be wet with the dew of heaven. In some places it was customary for the friends of the dead to kneel, and say the Lord’s Prayer over the grave, for several Sundays after the interment; and then to dress the grave with flowers.
Manibus date lilia plenis.
Purpureos spargam fibres; animamque nepotis
His saltèm accumulem donis, et fungar inani
Munere.
Bring fragrant flowers, the fairest lilies bring,
With all the purple beauties of the spring.
These gifts at least, these honors I’ll bestow
On the dear youth, to please his shade below.
Warton
It is still usual to stick, on the eve of St. John the Baptist, over the doors, sprigs of St. John’s Wort, or in lieu of it the common Mugwort. The intent was to purify the house from evil spirits; in the same manner as the Druids were wont to do with Vervaine, which still bears with the Welsh the significant title of Cas gan Gythrael, or the Damons aversion.
Pennant, Thomas, The Journey to Snowdon, (1781), vol. 2, pp. 338-339 (Religious customs)
Pennant, Thomas, A tour in Wales, (1784), p. 152 (Religious customs)
Pennant, Thomas, The Tour in North Wales MDCCLXXIII, vol. 3, pt. 2, (1883), p. 152
Other funeral observances, mentioned by Mr Pennant (vol. iii. pp. 159-161), belong to an earlier date. “It was customary, when the corpse was brought out of the house and laid upon the bier, for the next of kin, be it widow, mother, sister, or daughter (for it must be a female), to give over the coffin a quantity of white loaves, in a great dish, and sometimes a cheese with a piece of money stuck in it, to certain poor persons. After that they presented, in the same manner, a cup of drink, and required the person to drink a little of it immediately. When that was done they kneeled down, and the minister, if present, said the Lord’s Prayer: after which they proceeded with the corpse, and at every cross-way between the house and the church they laid down the bier, knelt, and again repeated the Lord’s Prayer; and did the same when they first entered the churchyard. To this hour, the bier is carried by the next of kin; a custom considered as the highest respect that filial piety can pay to the deceased. In some places it was customary for the friends of the dead to kneel and say the Lord’s Prayer over the grave for several Sundays after the interment.”

1796 Aberaeron
A man of forty had died … and they were just setting out with the funeral. His neighbours all around attended, and the Bretheren of a club [probably the Aberaeron Club (the Old Benefit Club) established 1785] of which he was a member, and by which he had been supported during the long illness. They sang a psalm in Welsh before the Corps, and performed but ill. He being a single man, a white sheet or table cloth was flung over the coffin, and he was bourne upon Men’s shoulders to the place of internment, which was at some distance [either Henfynwy to the south or Aberarth to the north]: no refreshment is given to the Bearers.
Lady Sykes, University of Hull, DDSY(3)/10/11 (Typed transcript) p. 199          

1796 Dolgellau
In the afternoon I had the opportunity of attending a Funeral, and hearing the service performed in Welsh, it was that of a pauper, and great decency observed. The deceased was a single man, the coffin laid on a Bier covered with a white linen pall and borne upon Men’s shoulders, which they placed in the bottom Ile [isle?]. The nearest relations kneeled on the coffin during the Prayers; the Clergyman then went to the Communion table followed by the nearest of kin, a coloured Handkerchief was spread, and each put in a sixpence, and the other friends, and attendance a penny each. When this was done a child was christened, the Funeral still remaining in the church, afterwards it was committed to the grave with the concluding service. The clergyman noticing my being a stranger, informed me this custom was peculiar to north Wales, and it was called an Offering, each giving in value to what they possessed, and when opulent, it was no uncommon thing to collect four or five pounds at one burial, and that it was the best part of the salary of the Curate.
Lady Sykes, University of Hull, DDSY(3)/10/11 (Typed transcript) p. 215

1796 Llanfair Caereinion
At Llanfair, we saw a funeral. The coffin was laid on a bier, and covered with an awning like a tilted wagon, over which was thrown a white sheet. It was borne on the shoulders or four men, and attended by 20 or 30 persons, of both sexes, singing Psalms. The singing, as well as the service, was Welsh. There were no signs of mourning in the apparel of any; but the behaviour of all was serious and devout. Those whom I imagined to be the relations of the deceased, together with the bearers, knelt down in the aisle, around the corpse.
Hutton, Catherine, Letter I, Mallwyd, July 26th, 1796, Monthly Magazine, or British Register, Vol 39, (1815), pt 1, pp. 410-411

1796
At all funerals in North Wales a wooden bowl is placed on a communion table; and after the service in the church is ended, every person present drops money in it; the poorer sort, copper; the richer, shillings, half crowns, even Guineas, and sometimes to the number of five. This offering is made from respect to the memory of the deceased, and the greater the sum the greater the respect shown. But the poor clergyman reaps the benefit; it is his perquisite, and frequently exceeds the rest of his revenue.
After the service at the grave is ended, there is a smaller contribution for the clerk.
In South Wales, when a poor person dies, the neighbours and acquaintance take up a large fluted mould-candle, made on purpose for such occasions, called a burying candle, and, having deposited it in the house, they sit all night by the dead body, and join in singing Psalms. This they call Waking the corpse, and they continue the practice every night till it is buried. Where the neighbourhood is populous, these midnight wakers fill the house, which indeed seldom consists of more than two rooms. Tea is made for the refreshment.
Throughout the principality the common people constantly see corpse candles which are the forerunners of death. These are large walking candles, that pass by in the night, and these seers can tell, by the colour of the flame, and the kind of noise it makes in walking, whether it be man, woman, or child, that is to die!
Hutton, Catherine, LETTER IV, Barmouth Aug. 7, 1796, Monthly Magazine, or British Register, Vol. 39, (1815), pt. 1, pp. 490-491

1798
It might be expected, that those who had such singular customs at the entrance on life, would have some peculiarities on the departure out of it. Previous to a funeral it is usual for the friends of the deceased to meet in the apartment where the corpse is placed ; some of them, generally the female part, bewail the loss of their departed friend. When it is brought to the door one of the relations gives bread, cheese, and beer, over the coffin to some poor persons of the same sex, and nearly of the same age with the deceased, for collecting herbs and flowers to put into the coffin with the body ; sometimes a loaf, with a piece of money stuck in it, is added. This done, all attending kneel down, and the minister, if present, repeats the Lord’s Prayer. At every cross-way they stop, and the same ceremony is repeated, till they arrive at the church. Frequently the intervals are filled up by singing of psalms and hymns, which amidst the stillness of rural life, and the echo from the hills, produces a melancholy effect; and adds to the Sombre solemnity of the occasion.
The funerals in Wales are attended by greater crowds of people than even their weddings. A custom prevails in this country of each individual in the congregation making some offering in money on these occasions, which, if done in the church, is paid as a mark of respect to the clergyman. This custom, which is at present confined to North Wales; has doubtless been retained from the Romish religion, where the money was intended as a recompense to the priests for their trouble in singing mass for the soul of the deceased. In some cases, where the clergyman is not respected by his parishioners, the offerings are made on the coffin at the door of the house where the deceased resided, and are then distributed among the poor relatives. When, however, the offerings are made in the church, the other mode very rarely occurs. The whole of the morning or evening prayers for the day, and the usual part of the burial service in the church, are first read : the next of kin to the deceased then comes forward to the altar table, and if it is a poor person, puts down sixpence or a shilling, but if be is sufficiently opulent, half a crown or a crown, and sometimes even so much as a guinea. This example is followed by the other relatives, and afterwards by the rest of the congregation whose situation in life will afford it, who advance in turn to offer. When the offering of silver is ended, a short pause ensues, after which, those who cannot spare any larger sum, come forward, and put down each a penny, (a halfpenny not being admitted.) Collections on these occasions have been known to amount to ten or fifteen pounds, but where the relatives are indigent, they do not often exceed three or four shillings. In cases where families are left in distress, this money is usually given by the clergyman to them. When the collection is entirely finished, the body is taken to the grave, the remainder of the burial service is read, and the awful ceremony is there closed.—The offerings at Llanbublic, the parish church of Caernarvon, sometimes amount to fifty or sixty pounds a year.
Evans, John, Rev., A tour through part of North Wales, in the year 1798, and at other times : principally undertaken with a view to botanical researches in that Alpine country: interspersed with observations on its scenery, agriculture, manufactures, customs, history, and antiquities. (London, 1800), letter 13, and Evans, John, Rev.
The Topographical Description of North Wales by Rev Mr Evans for the Beauties of England and Wales: delineations, topographical, historical and descriptive. Vol.17, (1813), pp. 115-117

1798
Much singularity is observable in their funerals,
When a person dies, the friends and relations of the deceased meet in the room where the corpse lies, the evening previous to the funeral. Here the male part of the company are seen smoaking, drinking, cracking their jokes, and sometimes indulging themselves with a Welsh air; whilst the women are kneeling round the corpse, weeping bitterly, and bewailing, in terms of “loud lament,” the loss they have experienced. When the body is committed to the ground, the sexton, after casting the earth upon it, holds out his spade to the attendant mourners, who, in turn, contribute as much money as they can conveniently afford. The sum thus collected is a compliment to the officiating minister, and intended by the donors as a bribe to extricate the soul of the deceased as quickly as possible out of purgatory. It is evidently a remnant of the Roman Catholic faith, and nothing more than the mass money which formerly was bestowed in large proportions for the same purpose. On these occasions the oblations are oftentimes very considerable; and we are informed by a clergyman in Anglesey, that he had more than once received ten pounds in that way.
From this custom, and certain other perquisites, the curacies of North-Wales afford very comfortable incomes; the character of poverty, therefore, which attaches to the subaltern clergy of South-Wales, does not extend to those of the northern part of the principality. The stipends, it is true, are in both cases very trifling; but the arian-rhew, or offering at the graves just mentioned, (so called from the money being cast into the spade) and some other sources of profit, make the amount of many of the North-Wales curacies above one hundred pounds a year.
Warner, Richard, Rev., A Second Walk through Wales in August and September, 1798. (Bath, 1799), pp. 302-303

1799
When a common man dies at Caernarvon, a small bell is rung about the streets, as an invitation to all persons to attend the funeral. Those who arrive first fill the house, the others crowd about the door, and each is presented with a small cup of ale ; they all accompany the corpse to the church, singing psalms by the way. Should any person acquainted with the deceased fail in his attendance, it would be considered as an affront.
Hutton, Catherine, LETTER XIV, Caernarvon; Sept. 14, 1799, Monthly Magazine, or British Register, Vol. 45, (1818), pt. 1, pp. 111-113

1801 Llanddeiniolen
Welsh Funeral.
During my residence in Caernarvonshire I one day rode with the worthy rector of Llanberis, to attend the funeral of a girl, a child about seven years old, whose parents resided in the parish of Llanddeiniolen, somewhat more than five miles distant. The coffin was tied on the bier, and covered with a sheet, tied also at the corners. It was borne on the shoulders of four men. The number of attendants at the outset was near a hundred, but this increased by the continued addition of men, women, and children, some on foot and some on horseback, till, by the time we arrived at the church, we had more than double that number. At the head of this cavalcade my friend and myself ascended the steep paths of the rocks, passed over mountains, and wound our way along some of the most rugged defiles of this dreary country. To any stranger who could have observed, at a little distance, our solemn procession, in this unfrequented tract of mountains, in one place some hundred feet above the lake of Llanberis, to the edge of which we had to descend, it would have borne much the air of romantic times. When we came to the church, we found that place nearly full of people awaiting our arrival. The service was read in Welsh in a most impressive manner; and the coffin was let down into the grave by four of the female mourners. A more solemn office I had never witnessed, and the circumstance of the body being committed to the bosom of the earth by the hands of relatives or friends was altogether new to me. A few rushes were strewed upon the coffin; and I shall never forget the stifled shriek that was uttered, when, in Welsh, the solemn words, “we commit her body to the ground,” &c. were read. How enviable were the virtuous feelings of this illiterate peasantry, while thus attending a sister to the verge of peace.—The ceremony being over, the grave was filled up and planted with slips of box and some other evergreens.—The offerings in the church amounted to near two pounds, of which more than thirty shillings were in silver.
Bingley, W., Rev, A Tour round North Wales including its Scenery, Antiquities, Customs and some Sketches of its Natural History; Delineated from two Excursions through all the interesting Parts of the Country, during the summers of 1798 and 1801, (2nd edition, 1804), vol. 1, p. 240; (1814 edition, pp. 156-157)

1801Manners and Customs of the Welsh, funerals
Offering [money to cleric]
It is usual, in several parts of North Wales, for the nearest female relation to the deceased, be she widow, mother, sister, or daughter, to pay some poor person of the same sex, and nearly of the same age with the deceased, for procuring slips of yew, box, and other evergreens to strew over and ornament the grave for some weeks after interment; and in some instances for weeding and adorning it on the eves of Easter, Whitsuntide, and the other great festivals, for a year or two afterwards. This gift is called diodlys, and it is made on a plate at the door of the house, where, at the same time, the body is standing on a bier. It had its name from the custom, which is now discontinued, of the female relative giving to the person a piece of cheese with the money stuck in it, some white bread, and afterwards a cup of ale. When this previous ceremony is over, the clergyman, or, in his absence, the parish clerk, repeats the Lord’s prayer ; after which they proceed with the body to the church. Four of the next of kin take the bier upon their shoulders; a custom which is considered as expressive of the highest mark that even filial piety can pay to the deceased. If the distance from the house to the church be considerable, they are relieved by some of the congregation; but they always take it again before they arrive at the church. I have been informed that, in some parts of the country, it is usual to set the bier down at every crossway, and again when they enter the church-yard, and at each of these places to repeat the Lord’s prayer.
In some parts of Wales it was formerly customary for the friends of the dead to kneel on the grave, and there to say the Lord’s prayer for several Sundays subsequent to the interment, and then to dress the grave with flowers. [derived from Pennant?]
Bingley, W., Rev, (A Tour round North Wales including its Scenery, Antiquities, Customs and some Sketches of its Natural History; Delineated from two Excursions through all the interesting Parts of the Country, during the summers of 1798 and 1801, (1804), vol. 2, pp. 285-289; (1814 edition), pp. 507-511

1802
MODE OF BURYING.
When the parish-bell announces the death of a person, it is immediately enquired upon what day the funeral is to be; and on the night preceding that day, all the neighbours assemble at the house, where the corpse is, which they call Ty Corph, i.e.” The corpse’s house.” The coffin, with the remains of the deceased, is then placed on stools in an open part of the house, covered with black cloth, or, if the deceased was unmarried, with a clean white sheet, with three candles burning on it. Every person on entering the house falls devoutly on his knees before the corpse, and repeats to himself the Lord’s Prayer, or any other prayer that he. chooses. Afterwards, if he is a smoker, a pipe and tobacco are offered to him. This meeting is called Gwylnos, and in some places Pydreua. The first word means Vigil; the other is, no doubt, doubt, a corrupt word from Paderau, or Padreuau, that is, Paters, or Pater-nqfiers. When the assembly is full, the parish-clerk reads the common service appointed for the Burial of the Dead: at the conclusion of which, psalms, hymns, and other godly songs are sung; and since Methodism is become so universals some one stands up and delivers an oration on the melancholy subject, and then the company drop away by degrees. On the following day the interment takes place between two and four o’clock in the afternoon, when all the neighbours assemble again. It is not uncommon to see on such occasions an assembly of three or four hundred people, or even more. These persons are all treated with warm spiced ale, cakes, pipes and tobacco, and a dinner is given to all those that come from far: I mean, that such an entertainment is given at the funerals of respectable farmers.
Assembled there, from pious toil they rest,
And sadly share the last sepulchral feast.”
Pope’s Homer.
They then proceed to the church, and at the end of that part of the Burial Service which is usually read in the church, before the corpse is taken from the church, every one of the congregation presents the officiating minister with a piece of money; the deceased’s next relations usually drop a shilling each, others sixpence, and the poorer fort a penny a-piece, laying it on the altar. This is called Offering, and the sum amounts sometimes to eight, ten, or more pounds at a burial. The parish-clerk has also his offering at the grave, which amounts commonly to about one fourth of what the clergyman received. After the burial is over, the company retire to the public-house, where every one spends his sixpence for ale; then all ceremonies are over. Note: This last custom is not in use in Anglesey.
These superfluous rites are considered as a respect due to the memory of the deceased, and as a compliment to his surviving relations and friends, though many know them to be the remains of Popish superstition. The prayer before the corpse was nothing else but a prayer for his soul’s rest; or, if he was reputed a virtuous and holy man, it was, no doubt, with hopes he would pray and intercede for those he left behind. The offering to the priest was for the deceased’s absolution, and a speedy removal out of purgatory. Though, as I said before, the origin of these things is thus generally known, yet custom has sanctioned and established them for different, though frivolous, needless, and vain purposes.
Williams, William, Observations on the Snowdon Mountains, (1802), pp. 14-15
Most of this was quoted in Leigh’s Guide to Wales & Monmouthshire: containing observations on the mode of travelling, plans of various tours, sketches of the manners and customs, notices of historical events, and description of every remarkable place, and a minute account of the Wye, with a map of Wales. . . (London, Samuel Leigh, 1831). First edition, with several subsequent editions up to 1844, p. 17

1803 Capel Curig?
Saw the 6th funeral in the neighbourhood, the usual is 3 per annum.
Skinner, John, Journal of a tour from Capel Curig in Caernarfon to Camerton, 3rd – 22nd January 1803, Cardiff Central Library, MS 1.498, p. 1

1803 [Ysbyty Cynfyn?]
…I suddenly beheld at least 50 horses all saddled and bridled’ … [the owners were attending a funeral in a church – he looked through the broken window] ‘heard the parson growling the funeral service in Welsh’
Shepherd, William, Letters, NLW MS15190C, 14.7.1803 Rhayader

1805
Superstitions
The straw, on which the deceased lay, is set on fire soon after the breath departs …
Corpse candles
Funerals [very brief, no mention of flowers] similar to Irish – see book Castle rack-rent
Jones, Theophilus, The History of Brecknock (1805), pp. 284-286 and later editions

1805
{funeral customs}
Mavor, William Fordyce, A tour in Wales, and through several counties of England: including both the universities ; performed in the summer of 1805, (London : Printed for R. Phillips, 1806), p. 61

1805
{account of custom on the night before a burial}
Sotheby, William?, A Journal of a tour through parts of Monmouthshire and Glamorgan, NLW 6497C, p. 58

1807
Funeral Customs
A.M. Cuyler Recollections of a visit to Llanbeder [Llanbedr] in the County of Brecon with remarks on an excursion down the River Wye from Rhos to Chepstow including Abergavenny, Monmouth, Piecefield, Raglan etc by A.M.Cuyler 1807, NLW add MS 784a, pp. 34, 162

1808 Neath
The lower class of the inhabitants of Glamorganshire possess the superstitions common to their countrymen; one peculiar to them is a belief that there is a supernatural light preceding the death of persons, which traverses from the abode of the dying or dead person to the place of interment. They call it a canwyll corfe; in English, corpse candle (this is the same light I heard of in Carmarthenshire), and describe it to be a blue light; and some pretend to say, that if they lie down on the ground they can see the whole funeral procession.
Spence, Elizabeth Isabella, Summer Excursions through parts of Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Warwickshire, Staffordshire, Herefordshire, Derbyshire, and South Wales [in 1806, 1807, 1808] (1809), p. 142

1808 near Carreg Cennan
the funeral of a Man and his Wife who both died of a fever within half an hour of each other. A large concourse of people attended it, in no manner of order, nor any in mourning, some of them bare headed, singing before the coffins, which were carried abreast of each other on Biers. The coffins were without Palls, not made with lids, but covers.
Bant, Millicent, [Tour of Wales] Essex Record Office D/DFr f4, ff 45-46

14.7.1808
We remained at Machynlleth till the day after the funeral which took place on the
July 14th, the funeral [of their host] was conducted with great solemnity. All the principal friends and tenants of the deceased attended, and twelve gentlemen of the neighbourhood stood pall-bearers. I think the procession must have amounted to upwards of an hundred people. It is a pleasing custom (but I do not know whether general) of covering the corpse with flowers. I went twice into the room before the coffin was closed – the corpse was really beautiful, I never saw a more placid and heavenly countenance – female attendants watched by the body from the decease to the funeral, at which time it is customary to prepare cakes, and mull wine for all the attendants, some of whom returned to dinner. A singular custom is observed at the Welsh funerals; I mean that of offerings; before the corpse is committed to the earth, the clergyman goes to the altar, and all the attendants place a sum of money on a wooden receiver (designed for the purpose) by the communion rails, beginning with the chief friends of the deceased; and when all have contributed, the clergyman reckons the amount, which he proclaims aloud, and after the service is entirely concluded, an offering is made to the clerk in a similar manner, upon a tomb stone. There is something in my opinion so very indecent in this custom… the clergyman stopping in the middle of the service, conveys a horrible idea it has the appearance of refusing interment to the deceased, till a proper fee has been given – it is one of the few Welsh customs I should wish abolished.
Skinner, Charlotte Jane, Sketch book of Charlotte Jane Skinner, done in the summer of 1808. National Library of Wales, 14537C, pp. 65-67; Cardiff Central Library MS3.295 (Typed transcript of extracts)

1809
A WELSH FUNERAL IN 1809.—A funeral at this date was a very different ceremony from one in 1909. It was the occasion of much ostentatious mourning, almsgiving, and feasting. The traces of Romanism still survived, and we will try to picture such a ceremony at Llansantffraid. as it has been handed down by one who was present, and, not very long ago, full of years and village lore, went to his rest. We are met to bury a local farmer, whose widow and seven sons are left to mourn his loss and, incidentally, to pay the funeral bill. In this farmhouse. as in many others, there is always a two-year- hung ham, kept in anticipation of any great event, and, sorrowing or rejoicing, the culinary arrangements are much alike; in either case the rule holds good: “Plenty to eat and plenty to drink for one and all.” The widow’s weeds we cannot describe; as mere man, it is beyond us; but the seven sons have each new suits of “superfine,” the coats of the claw-hammer fashion. On these, each wears a cloak which drops to the heels. Over the shoulder is a crape sash, which meets at the side and forms a large bow. On their heads they have beaver hats, and on each is a deep crape band, which hides the crown of the hat and falls in long streamers behind right to the waist. The relatives are all supplied with these hat-bands and with gloves, and invited friends are given silk hat-bands. Incidentally, we may mention that these hatbands require three-and-a-half yards of silk or crape to make. Having clothed the children, and placed the relatives and friends in mourning, the next step, after viewing the body and saying a prayer on bended knees at the bedside, is to see to the inner man. The lunch is laid in the big kitchen, the ham holding supremacy by right of age, supported by roast fowls and beef. Liquid refreshment is carefully distributed down the table, the ale or beer being put on in leather Jacks, and, as the Jacks differ in size, so they are carefully distributed down the table in order, the largest at the head. The lunch or feast is over, and one of the nearest relatives has distributed alms (small silver) to all and sundry in the yard, for the poor must not be forgotten. The funeral procession, led by the Vicar and doctor, next wends its way to the village, and when it arrives at the gate (where now there is a stile opposite the coal wharf gates), the people begin to sing, and proceed across the field. Half-way up, they turn to the left from the present path and follow the slight ridge Which is called ” The Corpse’s Shoulder,” from some fancied resemblance; and the churchyard is entered by a gate-way (long since bricked up) under the yew tree, mid-way between the school and the present gate, and so to the church. After the service and interment all wait patiently until the grave is filled and the mound carefully covered with laurel sprigs and yew; wreaths and crosses had not been dreamt of at this time. Now an adjournment is made to the Tafem yr Eglwys, and, with a final libation to the memory of the departed, the sons return to the fatherless home to count the cost of a smart, respectable, up-to-date funeral. Into the mysteries of the bell-ringing and the clerk’s duties and fees we will not enter; they have been fully discussed in previous notes. The following Sunday all those who attended the funeral attend the church, and a funeral sermon is preached by the Vicar. All wear their crape, silk and cloth emblems of mourning. A funeral was a serious financial obligation in those days, and many a good solid old family has been almost ruined by its undertaker’s bills.
Cyffin’, Bye-gones, August, 1909, p. 96

1810 (about) Somerset?
A contributor to the “Cambrian Quarterly Magazine,” in 1829, (vol. i. p. 413) states, that twenty years before, while he was staying with a friend in a little village on the southern side of the Severn, a labourer, the father of a large family, died of a cold caught in harvest. The poor man had been kindly visited and cared for by the writer’s friends. “We looked in,” he says, “on the house of sorrow; I was surprised at the great neatness and order that pervaded it. We were invited to see the corpse, which lay in an inner chamber upon a long bench, reverently covered with a clean homespun sheet, the fellow of which hung suspended against the wall, studded over with laurel leaves, pinned crosswise, each simple lozenge tasselled, in the centre, by a small bunch of gillyflower and southernwood. The little indispensable occupations, and the air of neatness they produced, threw a serenity over the mourners themselves, that served to rob the chamber of death of much of its wonted gloom. The funeral, I found, was to take place, according to the custom of their class, after night-fall on the morrow. It proved a stilly autumn evening, nothing breaking the silence save the rising murmurs of the river, which again died away with a melodious melancholy, sweetly harmonising with the scene around. I watched, from a little elevated mound, the coming of the procession; the cottage of the deceased stood high upon the side of the opposing hill, and through the almost darkness, for the harvest-moon had passed away, a moving light appeared, and then another, a little bustling irregularity, and then, in uniform array, eight or ten flaring torches were seen moving slowly onwards; and a distant hum was heard, that you might have thought no more than the murmuring of the river, had it not increased, as it approached, into the evident unison of many voices harmoniously blended in a devotional hymn, which they continued to chant as they moved along, and which now came impressively swelling on the ear as they emerged from behind a projecting point upon the broad hill-side, and was again half lost in the little thicket through which they passed in their descent. The light of the torches enabled me to observe that the attendants amounted to, at least, a hundred persons—men, women, and children, the passing-bell being a signal for the gathering of the country-side. The chant ceased not till the procession arrived at the gate of the small romantic cemetery, where the burden was set down, and a parting hymn poured forth, so solemn, so holy, and so subdued, that one could but feel there was a soul in man, and that that soul in its sorrows instinctively turns to Him ‘who breaketh not the bruised reed.’ The strong associations of the night before led me, on the morrow, to visit the churchyard alone. 1 was immediately attracted to the newly-made grave by the perfume and brilliancy of the flowers with which it had been profusely covered, many roots nicely covered, and the intervals filled up by blossoms only; those blossoms rich and costly, such as seldom grace the cottage garden. I learned, however, that the horticultural treasures of the wealthy are ever ungrudgingly bestowed for this sacred purpose; a simple epitome of that great truth, that in the grave all earthly distinctions end.”
quoted by Appleyard, Ernest Silvanus, Welsh sketches, 3rd series, 1853, pp. 188-191

1810
Funerals
Bruce, William Joseph, A Peregrination through part of the Counties of Somerset, Monmouthshire, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Shropshire with a portion of South Wales and a tour round north Wales as performed in the Autumn of the Year 1810, NLW ms. 19405 C, p. 298

1812 Tanybwlch area
When we got to the bottom of the mountains we met a Welsh funeral, the body was carried in a coffin (not painted) on a bier and attended by about 80 persons. I observed that as they passed the cottages they called for the inhabitants (who were ready dressed), to join the procession
Hawker, Joseph, ‘Tour of Josh Hawker and Elizabeth his wife through north Wales, 1812’ NLW add MS64B, pp. 29-30

1812 [between Monmouth and Tintern]
At an oak tree at Penallt the inhabitants stop when conducting a funeral and sing a psalm.
Hammond, William Osmund, Journal of a Tour in Wales and Ireland, 1812, NLW MS 24023A, f. 36

1814? between Carmarthen and Tenby
Nothing more presented itself but a country funeral, solemnity and decent regard reigned throughout; the coffin was supported by six men, the rest were on horse back.
Anon, Narrative of a Tour through Wales by an anonymous English Gentleman. NLW ms 18943, f. 19

1815 (and earlier?)
‘The manner of attending funerals and paying that last respect to the memory of the deceased is much more commendable in Wales than in other countries where parade and affection are oftentimes the substitutes for affection, where the semblance of woe too often mocks the reality. A Welsh funeral is much more decent than the hasty internment of the dead in many parts of England, attended by two, three of half a dozen followers.’
{Description of the custom of dealing with a death}
Evans, Thomas, Walks through Wales; containing a topographical and statistical description of the principality:… (2nd edition. 1815), p. 169

1815 Chepstow
Wednesday.–We saw the funeral of an infant, who was carried to the grave by girls dressed in white; no male attending but the father.
Brunton, Mary, ‘Emmeline With Some Other Pieces’ (1819). [including extracts from a journal of tours in 1812 (England) and 1815 (England and Wales) http://www.labrocca.com/marybrunton/e/extract1815.html

1816
Being upon so grave a subject, I shall give the reader some account of burials in Wales. The decease of any person is announced by the parish bell, and, the day of the burial also being known, the neighbours meet on the night preceding the interment at the house where the deceased lies, which, on such occasions, is termed Ty Corph, i.e., the Corpse’s House. The coffin, with the remains of the departed, is then laid upon stools, or a table, covered, if married, with black cloth; if single, with a pure white sheet; upon which are placed three lighted candles; each person, on entering “the house of mourning,” very devoutly bends the knee before the corpse, repeating in a low whisper, the Lord’s-prayer, or any other established or extempore supplication, the momentary ebullition of the sorrowful heart; after this, to those who are smokers, pipes and tobacco are tendered: originally intended to destroy any baneful effluvia that may arise from the corpse; a custom, perhaps, on such occasion, better avoided than continued; by which, however, no immorality is produced, as little or no liquor is drank. When the assembly is complete, the parish-clerk stands conspicuous, and reads through the burial-service, the people being very attentive, and they conclude the service with singing psalms and hymns: but as Methodism has increased greatly of late years, it is now very common for a man of that sect to make an impressive oration on the melancholy event; after which, the people depart to their different homes. It must be observed, that this ceremony is common only to the mountainous parts; but is falling off fast, and is nearly obsolete in the eastern counties of the principality. It is called Gwylnos, or Vigil; in other parts it is improperly denominated Padrua, a corruption of Paderuace, or Pater-nosters. In the afternoon of the following day, the burial takes place: when three, four, and frequently five, hundred people assemble, to accompany the remains of the deceased to the grave. Two or three are employed to hand around cakes and hot-spiced ale, to the company; and, to those who choose them, pipes and tobacco; and if the deceased was respectable or wealthy, a dinner is provided for those who come from far. The procession now commences, and at the conclusion of the service in the church, and ere the corpse is withdrawn from it, the people walk up to the communion table, when they present the officiating clergyman with a piece of money, proportioned to their means, which they lay on the altar; and this is called an offering; the total of the money thus collected, depends on the deceased’s connexions in life; sometimes it is eight, ten, twelve, or more pounds. The coffin is now conducted to the grave, where it is deposited; and, while the grave is closing, the clerk receives his offering upon his spade, which, in general, amounts to about one-fourth of that of the clergyman. The company, after this, retire to a publichouse; and each spends three-pence or six-pence for ale. Though the people all know, that the custom of offering is a remains of a popish superstition, they continue it only as a respect due to the memory of the deceased. In the prayer before the corpse we may, perhaps, recognize a prayer for the soul’s repose; and in the offering to the priest, a contribution for the deceased person’s absolution, and a speedy release out of purgatory.
Pugh, Edward, Cambria Depicta: A Tour Through North Wales illustrated with Picturesque Views, By a Native Artist, (1816), pp. 125-126

1816 Abermaw
Detailed description of the funeral of an Irishman, a Cambridge student, in Abermaw for a reading holiday, who had drowned whilst bathing.
Walter, John, Bangor, A Tour in North Wales (1817) UCNW, 27, 28        

1818 Between Beddgelert and Caernarfon
we met assembled around a cottage, an immense concourse of people, & at first conceived it to be a Methodist meeting, but were informed it was a funeral, & that it was generally the custom for the acquaintance of the deceased from the neighbouring villages to assemble at the house of the deceased, & attend the corpse to the silent grave.
Alderson, Harriet, (Accompanied Lady Fitzherbert of Tissington, Staffs?) Journal of a tour from Aston to Beaumaris in September 1818, Gwynedd Record Office, XM/2600, p. 8

1819
funeral ceremonies
Mr and Mrs Woolrych, ‘Journal of a Tour performed during the summer of 1819’, NLW, 16630B, p. 63

1820s
Funerals
Batenham, A., The traveller’s companion in an excursion from Chester through North Wales. (Chester : Printed for G. Batenham, by R. Evans, 1820s), p. 62

1822
Detailed description of the funeral of Sarah, a member of his family who died suddenly in May 1822. David Davies estimated that about 2,000 attended her funeral.
Diary of David Davies, NLW ms 22245A, ff. 54v – 57r.

1824 Llanstephan?
As we returned to the Inn we saw a Welsh Funeral & went into the church to hear part of the service in Welsh. The near relatives leaned weeping over the coffin while the serviced was reading & all the way to the church they continued singing a psalm in Welsh which we were told is the custom.
Porter, Anne, Journal of a tour down the Wye & through South Wales, August 17th to September 25th 1824. Worcestershire Record Office, BA 3940 Parcel 65 (ii) 705: 262Tuesday [31.8.1824]

1824 Haverfordwest
Here we saw a child’s funeral – children’s coffins are always painted white.
Porter, Phoebe, Journal of a tour down the Wye & through South Wales, Worcestershire Record Office, BA 3940 Parcel 68 (i) 705: 262

1825 Beddgelert
{Funeral – every villager there (including the landlady)} gave a donation to the clergyman.
Anon [same author as Cardiff Central Library, MS 4.349] ‘Journal of a tour of north Wales with engravings, made in the summer vacation of 1825’ Cardiff Central Library, MS 4.350, p. 75

1827 Llangollen
the customs of the orthodox Welsh church are similar to those in England except in the following viz: that of bedecking the graves of the dead with shrubs & flowers, of singing before the corpse to the church, & ringing a passing bell in the following manner. On the day prior to the funeral the bells are tolled in a quick succession of strokes. 12 strokes denote the death of a married master of a house; 11 the mistress of a family; 10 strokes an unmarried man; 9 an unmarried woman; 6 a boy & 5 a girl. The great bell is then tolled in minute time all day & then the following day & only ceases during the time of interment. When the service is over the Minister goes to the steps of the altar, whereon a wooden plate is placed & the friends of the deceased deposit money thereon in his presence which is instead of dues. When the corpse is buried the Clerk receives the donations of the people round the grave upon the spade with which he is throwing the earth on the coffin & this is his share of the fees.
Beecroft, Judith, Cardiff Central Library, MS2.325

1827 Newbridge Quaker’s yard
{saw a funeral}
Lloyd, Captain A Diary of a Journey from Charring Cross, London, through Wales, by Captain Lloyd, 1827, NLW MS 786A, p. 4

1831 Aberystwyth
‘Near the castle is the old church and a new one of handsome construction, now building. The graves are curiously over wrought with small stones or pebbles and the grave stones are more like little walls than anything else. I met a funeral of some young person – it was attended by a host of people, who had been previously entertained with spice-ale, cakes, and tobacco a rare vigil for so solemn a purpose (what can be the meaning of it? But it is the custom and use breeds a habit which has perhaps little effect in diminishing those tender emotions that naturally arise on so sorrowful an occasion.
Marsh, John Henry, (Cicestra) ‘Tour through south and north Wales; in 1831’, Cardiff Central Library, MS 3.589, p. 25

1833 Llandiolin [Llandeiniolin]
Witnessed a funeral and burial of a child … the grave was filled up by the relatives the little mound was raised and the surface dressed with flowers and planted with strips of yew. All this I saw …
Letts, Thomas, [Journal of a tour in north Wales] NLW MS 22340B, f. 163v

1833 near Crickhowell
death of daughter Elizabeth, aged 13
Detailed account of her death (on 17.3.1833), funeral (on 23.3.1833 – but with no mention of placing flowers on the grave at the funeral) and of support from friends, neighbours and religion.
She rests on the N side of the churchyard at an angle of the boundary wall with the side path to the church door. [Followed by account of visit to the graveyard on Palm Sunday]
Bevan, William Hibbs, Glannant, Crickhowell, ironmaster. Diary, NLW ms 22689B, ff. 26v – 30v

1833 near Bangor?
At one place on the road, we passed the funeral of two infants. The little coffins being borne by women, and suspended on white ribbons, with frilled muslin shrouds, we thought at first they were two cradles, though the mistake could not last long, on account of the mournful countenance and solemn face of the bearers, which told the affecting truth, that these young twins were cut off at the very threshold of existence, … The landlady at Bangor mentioned, that it is customary among the poorer classes for friends to volunteer their attendance at funerals, on which occasion the grave-digger carries round his spade, and each individual is expected to deposit a gift upon it for the officiating clergyman. This collection amounts in many cases to several pounds; but the offerings are sometimes as low as one penny—a rule is made against any visitor presuming to present less. In several cases clergymen have been known very charitably to distribute this fund among the poorest relatives, or to bestow it on indigent families in the neighbourhood, though their own might often very nearly come under that denomination, as the stipends in Wales are proverbially low; and wherever they are smallest, the largest family seems always ready to be provided for.
Sinclair, Catherine, Hill and Valley, or Hours in England and Wales 1833
(1st edition, New York, 1838) p. 117; (2nd Edition, Whyte and Co, Edinburgh, 1839), p. 141-142

1833
Sin eater at a funeral
Sinclair, Catherine, Hill and Valley, or Hours in England and Wales 1833
(1st edition, New York, 1838) p. 341

1834
Mode of Burying [funerals]
Quotes Williams, William, Observations on the Snowdon Mountains, (1802), pp. 14-15, with the additional note:
Time has rendered some of the particulars in this statement obsolete, especially those with reference to the way in which the guests are entertained at the house of the deceased, and also With respect to their retiring as a body to the public house after the funeral. Even the remote recesses of Eryri have not been proof against the march of innovation ; for in the mode of conducting their funerals, as well as that of their marriages, considerable inroads have evidently been made on the primitive manners and customs of the inhabitants.

Several authors have mentioned an affecting Welsh custom of planting the graves of deceased friends with flowers. The last quoted authority, however, has not recorded it as the practice among the Snowdonian mountains; and Mr Bingley says he never witnessed it in all his perigrinations in the northern part of the Principality.
Quotes Evans, J., The Beauties of England and Wales, or, Delineations …, Volume 17, p. 118 which was based on Evans, John, Rev., A tour through part of North Wales, in the year 1798, pp. 17-21
Hemingway, J., Panorama of the Beauties, Curiosities and Antiquities of North Wales, intended as a Pocket Companion to the Tourist and Traveller(1st edition, 1834?) pp. 18-20

1837 Aberystwyth
Upon one occasion at this place we witnessed the decency and even solemnity with which the funeral, apparently of a very humble individual, was conducted. Twenty or thirty relatives and neighbours of the deceased, all clad in respectable mourning, followed, with evident sorrow, the corpse of their departed friend to the silence of the grave.
Turner, Thomas, Narrative of a Journey associated with a Fly, from Gloucester to Aberystwith and from Aberystwith through North Wales, 1837 (London, 1840), p. 25

1844 Towy valley
An Ivorite’s Funeral
[detailed fictional account]
Beale, Anne, The Vale of the Towey; or Sketches in South Wales, later published as Traits and Stories of the Welsh Peasantry, (1849), pp. 258-272.

29.7.1854 (Saturday)
to Twl Dhu
funeral of poor woman cottager
‘they plant slips of box tree upon the grave’
Pamplin, William, Notes and sketches of a tour in North Wales,1854-5
(later of Ronwylfa, Llandderfel) botanist, &c. NLW MS 7509C

From this date (and earlier in some cases), descriptions of funerals were published in local newspapers (Welsh Newspapers on line).

1857 Barmouth
{Funeral at the Methodist chapel … thirty to forty mourners, most of them women and wearing hats.}
Anon, Journal of a Tour through North Wales, NLW mss. 20719 A, pp. 36-37

1859 Barmouth
brief description of a funeral
Linder, Samuel and Susannah, Tour of North Wales, 1859, NLW MS 23065C, p. 57

1862
We all that were in the funeral [of Mrs Lewis, the game keeper] (according to custom) had a small bunch of flowers that we threw into the grave … [more?]
Journal of Margaret Mostyn Jones (née Davies), [Female, servant, to Lady Llanover], NLW MS 23511A, p. 55

1871
Funerals …
Funeral lights …
Curtis, Mary, The Antiquities of Laugharne, Pendine, Carmarthenshire, S.Wales, with some notices of their Neighbourhoods and illustrations. (1871), pp. 77-79

1872
Funerals …
‘There is sometimes found in Welsh houses of lesser importance one of those large lattern ornamental dishes, which are said to be of Flemish manufacture. These have been handed down for generations, and never used except on occasions of funerals and weddings [for holding food given to the poor who attended?] {Pennant mentions one which may have been used in this way}. There are also to be found large china or delf dishes, usually ancient family relics which are evidently not intended for common use.
Phantom Funerals …
Barnwell, E.L., (1872), On some Ancient Welsh Customs and Furniture, Arch Camb, (1872), p. 331-335

1884
funeral of the Very Rev. Henry Edwards, dean of Bangor. The coffin and grave were covered in floral wreaths, from the three orphan daughters.
O’Flanagan, James Roderick (of Grange House, Fermoy, Ireland) ‘Through North Wales with my wife : an Arcadian tour’ (London : Burns & Oates, [1884?]), pp. 28-29

1905 Carmarthenshire
Description of the funeral of his grandfather.
Parry-Jones, D., Welsh Country Upbringing (1948), pp. 45-50