TAKE A LOOK AT... (in Derbyshire)

This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 25th June 2001 (p13), reproduced by kind permission of its author, Julie Bunting.

The wonderful colour photograph which accompanied the article is reproduced on Ann Andrews' page featuring the Funeral Garland in Matlock Church.


Of an age gone by is the type of epitaph which in a single verse could tell a life-story - all too often a brief one in earlier times. Death was particularly cruel when it separated lovers, replacing a bridal bouquet with a wreath and joy with heartbreak. Such a tragedy happened in the spring of 1773 when a young woman of 24 years was buried at St Giles church, Matlock. A small brass tablet in the Lady Chapel commemorates Jessie Gwyllym, wife to Captain Thomas Gwyllym: she was

‘Snatch'd ere her Prime and in her bridal hour,
And when kind fortune, with her Lover smil'd,
And when high flower'd her fresh opning Joys,
And when kind man pronounced her wife (?) complet....’
(the rest is illegible.)

Whatever the sad story of the bride, nothing more than her short epitaph can tell it now.

By contrast, a tale of tragedy has been handed down through time, recalling a young woman who died on her way to be married at Beeley church in January 1785. Although the epitaph on the gravestone of Mary Woodson is no longer visible, a copy of the following transcription is kept in safekeeping in the village:

‘A faithful maid lies buried here.
A lover true a friend sincere.
She wished the marriage state to prove
But death had quicker wings than love.
Here o'er her corpse her - [Ed: sic] friend
Regrets her short and hasty end.
This sculptured stone his passion rears
and bathes her hapless name in tears.
But hold fond swain Nor wing thy constant heart
We'll meet again Hereafter ne'er to part.’


An ancient custom once widely observed at the funeral of a young unmarried woman, perhaps betrothed, is recalled in the small number of Peak churches which contain poignant relics known as maidens' garlands. The alternative name 'crants' appears in Shakespeare's Hamlet, when the priest objects to Ophelia, suspected of having taken her own life, being allow'd her virgin crants, her maiden strewments'

Similar creations were originally made from fresh flowers, especially lilies, emblems of purity since the earliest Christian times when lilies were laid upon the heads of deceased virgins. A broadsheet dating from the reign of James I contains a ballad telling of a bride who died 'as a maiden and a wife' at the end of her marriage ceremony, when a sudden chill ‘struck every vitall part’. At her funeral:

A garland fresh and fair
Of lilies there was made,
In sign of her virginitie,
And on her coffin laid.'

A more lasting type of maiden's garland was made by sorrowing friends and relations as a deeply symbolic, almost joyful, tribute to the chaste, deceased maid. A bell-shaped frame of bands and hoops of willow was decorated with ribbons, flowers and rosettes made from folded and crimped white paper, which might then be painted. In some instances kid gloves were hung within, otherwise pure white paper was generally used for the centrepiece, shaped into gloves, a collar or kerchief and perhaps inscribed with a short epitaph. Sometimes the text had been chosen by the dying maiden herself, knowing that the garland would soon be carried aloft at her funeral and then hung above her pew.


For all their fragility, many garlands would have survived but for being discarded during church restorations or simply removed, as at Hope, where in 1749/50 churchwardens were paid one shilling and sixpence for 'removing ye Garlands to make ye Church lighter'. A traveller wrote of seeing garlands in Tideswell church 200 years ago, while a number of withered examples were gathering dust in Hathersage church in the early part of the following century. Several were removed from Darley church in 1854, the most recent having been carried in March 1792 at the funeral of Hannah, 15-year-old only daughter of Daniel Dakeyne. In that same year, maidens' garlands which hung in Eyam church moved poet Anna Seward to write:

‘The gloves suspended by the garland's side,
White as snowy flowers with ribbon tied,
Dear village! long these wreaths funereal spread,
Simple memorials of the early dead.’

Another old custom observed at the funeral of a young woman was seen at Eyam around 1840, when flowers and herbs were scattered before the coffin of Alice Heathcote. Fresh flowers and a maiden's garland were also thrown into her grave.

By this time the tradition of making garlands had fallen into disuse in most parts of the country. Rare examples are preserved at Ilam, Ashford, Matlock and Trusley. The most elaborate are six time-darkened relics made about 200 years ago and displayed until quite recently in St Giles' church at Matlock. A further two were removed by antiquary Thomas Bateman in the mid-19th century at which time they still bore tinges of red and blue paint. Of the remaining six garlands, one has now undergone conservation work and also shows spots of colour inside its paper flowers. The other five fragile examples have been put into storage, costs of more than £600 per garland having put conservation out of reach.

Four garlands decorated with black and white frilled paper hang high in Ashford parish church. Their inscriptions are long faded but it is known that the earliest commemorates Ann Howard who died at the age of 21 in April 1747. A garland was also made in 1801 for a girl named Blackwell who drowned in a 'whirlpool' in the River Wye. An exceptional honour took place at Ashford in 1995 when a maiden's garland was made for the funeral of Miss Joy Price of the Franciscan tertiary; she was a Sunday School teacher in the village and left her house to the church.

The custom does survive, subject to strict criteria, at the church of Abbotts Ann in Hampshire, where a 'virgin's crown' may still be carried at the funeral of a chaste woman, or man, of the parish. Almost fifty survive and a large number commemorate males.

© Julie Bunting
From "The Peak Advertiser", 25th June 2001.

Photograph of Maidens' Funeral Garlands, Ashford (elsewhere online)

Articles by Julie Bunting are reproduced with her kind permission.

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