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torn off. It is consequently not possible to ascertain its original length; but it was probably about 150 mm.
This must be one of very few material relics of a custom once prevalent in Yorkshire and elsewhere of handing each mourner at a funeral a packet of cake or biscuit. Canon Atkinson, describing the custom in the North Riding, speaks of the cakes as "small round cakes of the crisp sponge description." They were called "Avril-bread." At Whitby a correspondent of Notes and Queries says: "A round, flat, rather sweet sort of cake-biscuit is baked [he wrote in 1875] expressly for use at funerals, and made to order by more than one of the bakers of the town; it is white, slightly sprinkled with sugar, and of a fine even texture within. One would think it not well adapted to be eaten with wine."2 In Upper Wensleydale in the West Riding another correspondent speaks of "a funeral cake made of Scotch short-cake, round, five to seven inches in diameter and three-quarters of an inch thick (price 4d., 6d., or 8d.), divided into two halves, laid together, and sealed in a sheet of white paper." 3 In Leicestershire biscuits are stated to be commonly provided as refreshments for mourners before leaving the house on the day of a funeral," and to be similar to those described at Whitby, "excepting in shape, being flat finger biscuits, about four inches long and one broad." At Sebergham, ten miles from Carlisle, what was given was a small piece of rich cake carefully wrapped up in white paper and sealed." 5 In Lincolnshire, on the Welsh border of Herefordshire, and at and about Market Drayton in Shropshire, oblong sponge biscuits, or sponge fingers, are given to the assembled mourners. In Radnorshire a hot plum-cake fresh from the oven used to be handed round to the guests, broken in
1 Forty Years in a Moorland Parish, 227. The word avril is said to be derived from arval, heir-ale, the name of the feasts given by Icelandic heirs on succeeding to property.
2 N. and Q. 5th ser. iv. 326.
N. and Q. 5th ser. v. 218.
3 N. and Q. 5th ser. v. 236.
Antiquary, xxxi. 331; Mrs. Leather, Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, 121; Folk-Lore, iv. 392. The writer of the last is in error in stating that the biscuits were, on the occasion referred to by her, given across the coffin (see Legend of Perseus, note at commencement of vol. iii.).
pieces, not cut with a knife.1 At Cwm Yoy, in the Black Mountain, beer and cake are partaken of. The practice in Upper Wensleydale, at Settle and at Sebergham of wrapping the cake or biscuits in white paper was also followed on the Shropshire border. The cakes there were square, one for each invited guest, "neatly wrapped in white note-paper with a deep black edge, and well sealed at the ends with sealing-wax." 3 Miss Burne writes to me: "I clearly remember (as a small child) the oblong 'funeral biscuits' wrapped in white paper sealed with black wax, distributed at the funeral of a greatuncle at Kingswinford in South Staffordshire, 1856. I watched my father unwrapping the little parcel he brought home from the ceremony.... They were still in occasional use at Newport, Shropshire, eleven miles from Market Drayton, in the eighties of the last century." The custom was probably once more extensive, confined, however, to persons who could afford the luxury of comparatively costly funerals.+ A correspondent of the Gentleman's Magazine in described it thus: "It hath long been the custom in Yorkshire to give a sort of light sweetened cake to those who attended funerals. This cake the guests put in their pocket or in their handkerchief, to carry home and share among the family. Besides this, they had given at the house of the deceased hot ale sweetened, and spices in it, and the same sort of cake in pieces. But if at a funeral of the richer sort, instead of hot ale they had burnt wine and Savoy biscuits, and a paper with two Naples biscuits sealed up to carry home for their families. The paper in which these biscuits were sealed was 1 Verbal statement by a Radnorshire woman to Rev. W. E. T. Morgan, vicar of Llanigon.
2 Verbal information by Mr. Iltyd Gardiner, registrar of the County Court, Abergavenny.
3 Cymru Fu Notes and Queries, ii. 275.
4 It seems even to have spread as far afield as the island of Antigua, in the West Indies, where species of pastry, called "dyer-bread" and "biscuitcakes," are said to have been formerly handed round at Negro funerals, enveloped in white paper and sealed with black wax (Antigua and the Antiguans [Anon.], ii. 188). It would be interesting to know how and whence the custom was introduced.
printed on one side with a coffin, cross-bones, skulls, hacks, spades, hour-glass, etc.; but this custom is now, I think, left off, and they wrap them only in a sheet of clean writing-paper sealed with black wax." 1 The specimen from Settle points. to an intermediate stage, when, probably under the influence of the Evangelical Revival, the skulls and other emblems of mortality had given way to pious but vapid doggerel. Can anyone explain what is meant by "Prepared by T. Robinson, Surgeon, Settle "? One would have thought it would be
rather the undertaker who would be thus advertised.
Nor is it in this country alone that a special food is taken by the mourners. Passing over the foreign examples, however, it is probable that the custom of providing cakes or biscuits at a funeral is not remotely related to that known in Wales and the Marches as Sin-eating. The sin-eater, first described by John Aubrey in his Remaines of Gentilisme and Judaisme, was a man who was paid a small sum to receive, over the coffin, when a dead body was brought out of the house immediately before the funeral procession started, bread or cake and cheese with beer or milk, to be then and there consumed. By so doing he was held to take upon him all the sins of the deceased and thus free the latter from unrest and the disturbance of the survivors. The practice is witnessed to in more modern times by Pennant, who wrote a century later than Aubrey, and who seems to have had before him when writing a manuscript book of a bishop of St. Asaph written in the first half of the eighteenth century.2 It is also described by the Rev. W. Bingley at the end of the century, as then usual in Carnarvonshire and elsewhere in North Wales, and by Robert Jones, a Calvinistic Methodist minister, as formerly in vogue. The late Matthew Moggridge it to the Cambrian Archaeo
of Swansea gave an account of
logical Association in the year 1852, and specified the neigh
'Gent. Mag. Lib., Manners and Customs, 70.
2 Tours in Wales, ed. 1883, iii. 150.
3 A Tour Round North Wales, 1800, ii. 233.
4 Drych yr Amseroedd , 50.
bourhood of Llandebie, near Swansea, as a place where the custom had survived to within a recent period.1
The evidence has been challenged by writers zealous for what has been thought to be the honour of Wales and the Marches on more than one occasion, but without success.2 And recently discoveries in Herefordshire, where the custom of sin-eating was first recorded, have tended to confirm the old accounts. At Cwm Yoy the beer and cake, already mentioned, are partaken of by the assembled guests after the corpse is brought out and placed on trestles, before the funeral procession starts; and the ceremony is called "the Last Sacrament." Mrs. Leather relates that a resident in the neighbourhood of Hay on attending the funeral of the sister of a farmer near Crasswall, was to his surprise" invited to go upstairs to the room where the body was lying. He went with the brother and four bearers. At the bottom of the bed, at the foot of the coffin, was a little box, with a white cloth covering it. On it were placed a bottle of port wine, opened, and six glasses arranged round it. The glasses were filled, and my informant was asked to drink. This he refused, saying that he never took wine. But you must drink, sir,' said the old farmer; it is like the Sacrament. It is to kill the sins of my sister.'"3 With this may be compared Mr. Addy's statements about the custom and belief in Derbyshire: "At a funeral in Derbyshire wine is first offered to the bearers who carry the corpse "—that is, as I understand it, before the body is removed. He goes on: "This custom is strictly maintained, the guests not receiving any wine until the funeral party has returned from church." He subsequently says, from the information of a farmer's daughter formerly residing at Dronfield, Derbyshire: "When you drink wine at a funeral every drop that you drink is a sin which the deceased has committed. You thereby take away the dead man's sins
1 Archaeologia Cambrensis, N.S. iii. 350.
The last time to my knowledge was in a correspondence begun in The Times, 18th, 24th September, 14th, 28th October, 1895, and continued in The Academy from the 9th November, 1895, to the 23rd May, 1896, and in Notes and Queries, 8th ser. viii. 288, 322; ix. 109, 169, 236, 296.
F.L. of Herefordshire, loc. cit.
and bear them yourself." " 1 Wine or ale was given with the "burying biscuits" in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. Mulled ale and cold ale, both spiced, are described as given at a Welsh funeral, shortly before starting for the churchyard; and they are said to have been given "amid the most profound silence, like the grave," and administered "just as the Lord's Supper is administered, and almost with the same reverence." 2 A foreigner, who witnessed a nobleman's obsequies at Shrewsbury in the early years of King Charles II., states that the minister made a funeral oration in the chamber where the body lay, and "during the oration there stood upon the coffin a large pot of wine, out of which every one drank to the health of the deceased. This being finished, six men took up the corps (sic) and carried it on their shoulders to the church." 3 It is I think impossible to sever the drinking of a ritual drink from the eating of a ritual food on the occasion of a funeral. They were both parts of one and the same observance, which in all cases took place just before the procession started for the churchyard. When the custom was in decay, sometimes the one, sometimes the other would survive.
Many years ago I discussed the meaning of the practice in the second volume of The Legend of Perseus in connection with similar rites in other parts of the world. The conclusion I then came to I still hold good-namely, that it is a relic of a very ancient custom, attributed by Strabo to (among others) the ancient Irish, of eating the flesh of dead kinsmen.
E. SIDNEY HARTLAND.
1 Addy, Household Tales and Traditional Remains, 123, 124.
2 Notes and Queries, 5th ser. v. 236; 7th ser. xi. 353. Brand and Ellis, Observations on Popular Antiquities, ii. 153 note, quoting the Gent. Mag. 1798. Atkinson, 227. Antiquary, xxxi. 331. Cymru Fu Notes and Queries, ii. 271, quoting the author of Rhys Lewis.
3 Brand and Ellis, ii. 153 note, quoting Antiq. Repert.