Sunday, 14 August 2011

Case Study; Wallace Hartley mourning card.

Front and back covers of the Wallace Hartley mourning card.

Here we have an exciting example of a mourning card that is not quite an antique, this card was commissioned to commemorate the life of Wallace Hartley, bandmaster of the ill-fated RMS Titanic.

Inside view of the same mourning card.

The card itself is in excellent condition, to the front cover a simple black boarder to cream card with the words; “In memory of Wallace Hartley” in black “of the period” font. Upon opening the card we are greeted with a wonderful sight; framed in silver, on the left; the music score and words to the hymn “Nearer my god to thee” and to the right; an image of Hartley and the Titanic with the words; “The musician hero of the Titanic who foundered April 14th, 1912” central. The reverse of the card is plain albeit for a black boarder.

Image of Wallace Hartley.

Hartley was born on 2nd June 1878 in Colne, Lancashire, England, and Hertleys’ father was a choirmaster at the Bethel Independent Methodist Chapel. It was here, taught by a fellow of the congregation, that Hartley learnt to play the violin.

After persuading his parents to allow him to pursue a career in music, Hartley moved to Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, and began working for Cunard Line ocean liners.  By 1912, Hartley was in the employment of C.W. & F.N Black, who supplied musicians for both Cunard and White Star, the company that owned and commissioned the Titanic.

As April 1912 came around, Hartley was newly engaged to his fiancée Maria Robinson, and was hesitant to take the role of bandmaster of the Titanic when it was offered. Even though he was not comfortable leaving his partner, Hartley agreed to take the position in the hopes of furthering his career.

An image of the Titanic.

The Titanic’s demise is well documented and has been popularised by the Hollywood film adaptation. Hitting an iceberg at 11.40pm a series of catastrophes followed, the flooding of six forward compartments overwhelmed the stability of the ship, eventually leading to the hull breaking into two sections due to emeses stress. By 2.20am both sections of the ship had sunk.

There is much written on the fate of the Titanic, who is at fault, and the engineering flaws that ultimately led to its sad ending, it is not for me to give weight or credence to any argument, I simply yearn to tell the story of the lives involved.

Much has been made, quite rightly, of the acts of heroism witness on this terrible night. Wallace Hartley joins the ranks with one such legendary act of human compassion. As panic gripped the passengers aboard, Hartley and his band played to quell the passengers as they loaded the lifeboats. Witnesses reported the band continued to play until the end. It is not known for certain which song was played as the Titanic went down, but popular legend instils “Nearer my God to thee” was the choice, it has also been reported that Hartley remarked, if he ever were to go down on a sinking ship his choice of song to play would indeed be “Nearer my God to Thee” or “O God, our help in ages past”. 

The band members of the Titanic. Top Row: L-R Fred Clarke of Liverpool and P.C. Taylor of Clapham. Middle Row: L-R G. Krins of Brixton, Wallace H Hartley of Dewsbury, the bandmaster, and Theodore Brailey of Notting Hill. Bottom Row: Jock Hume of Dumfries and J.W. Woodward of Headington, Oxon. Roger Bricoux, the cellist, is not present in this photograph.

 A national newspaper at the time stated; "the part played by the orchestra on board the Titanic in her last dreadful moments will rank among the noblest in the annals of heroism at sea." It is selfish acts such as these that earn individuals a glimmer of immortality; their legends live on so to speak.

Two weeks after the disaster, on May 4th, Hartley’s body was recovered from the waters, his being body number 224 . He still had his music box strapped about him and his gold fountain pen, engraved with the initials W.H.H, in his pocket. 

Image of the funeral procession for Wallace Hartley.

On 18th May 1912 , 40,00 people lined the streets of Hartleys birth town to witness his funeral procession, while a further 1000 attended the funeral held at Bethel Chapel. Hartley was laid to rest in his familys’ tomb that bares the inscription;

“In Loving Memory of Wallace Henry, The beloved son of Albion and Elizabeth Hartley Formerly of Colne Who lost his life in the S.S. Titanic Disaster on April 15th, 1912, Aged 33 years. And was interred on May 18th 1912.”

The memorial dedicated to Wallace Hartley in Colne.

 A beautiful monument, erected in 1915, now stands in the grounds of the rectory. It features a bust of Hartley, a dedication, and a fittingly, violin at its base. The inscription upon this monument reads;

Wallace Hartley, Bandmaster of the RMS Titanic who perished in the foundering of that vessel April 15th 1912, Erected by voluntary contributions to commemorate the heroism of a native of this town.”

It is vital to remember, as we approach the 100year anniversary, that 1517 poor souls lost their lives in this terrible disaster.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Case Study; Thomas Bloom Mourning Band.

As I have mentioned several times before I love the history mourning jewels can hint at. Researching particular dedications can provide amazing insights into a world long since passed.

Here, we have a stunning example of a mourning band in excellent condition. It is of Neo Gothic design, a hugely popular art movement that emerged in the 1850s in countenance to the liberal and free thinking Neo Classical movement that preceded it. It is important to consider the world in which this ring was made. Society was experiencing considerable changes, the industrial revolution was at his height and the ideas of the regimented class hierarchies were shifting.

The Neo Gothic art movement was born of a perceived necessity to return to a simpler way of life. A revival of medieval values proved popular in jewellery design and we can still see its influence in jewellery styles today.

This ring is a great example of the aforementioned design influences, it features a central black enamel band upon which the words "In Memory Of" can clearly be read in bold gothic lettering. The central band is flanked by two further bands of gold, highly patterned, again in gothic design. Given its age the ring is in superb condition, with no chips to the enamel and no wear to the ring in general.

The hallmark is beautifully preserved, reading;
TA - For the makers mark.
A crown with the numbers 18 - Stating the purity of the gold, in this case 18ct.
An anchor - For the Birmingham Assay Office, where this piece was hallmarked.
A letter F - The date letter, in this case 1854.
And finally an image of the head of Queen Victoria - Known as a duty stamp to indicate the correct taxes had been paid on the item.

The dedication is exquisitely engraved in flowing script around the inside of the band. It reads;
"Thomas Bloom, Obt,  Jan 11, 1861, at. 38."

From this simple dedication we can discover an array of information portraying to this certain individual. We have his name, date of death and also a rough idea of his year of birth. With a little research we can begin to build a fair portrait of this mans life.

It is also interesting to note the lapse in time between when the ring was made and hallmarked, 1854, and when it was dedicated in 1861. We will never know why, exactly, but there are several possibilities; it could be that the ring had simply been in stock at the jewellers for that length of time. It could be that a grave illness was suffered by Thomas Bloom in 1854 and the ring was purchased as a precaution or it could be the ring was purchased for somebody else but never used and so was recycled for Thomas Bloom. In truth we will never know but it adds another facet to the intrigue of this ring.

The internet gives us the ability to research many resources quickly and succinctly. Entering the above details on provides some wonderful results. 

Firstly, as we have the date of death, the most logical records to research with the hopes of finding more information would be that of wills and probate. Due to the unusual surname we get only one hit for a Thomas Bloom, the details as follows;

Thomas Bloom, 11 Jan 1861, Norfolk England.
Probate date 1st June 1861.
Effects under £3000.
The will of Thomas Bloom late of Great Melton in the county of Norfolk, farmer deceased who died 11 January 1861 at Great Melton aforesaid was proved at Norwich by the oaths of Mary Ann Bloom of Great Melton aforesaid widow the relict and John Bloom of Hockering in the said county farmer  and David Bloom of Great Melton aforesaid farmer the brothers the executors.

This extract from the probate records provides us with key information; 
The locality in which Thomas Bloom lived; Great Melton.
His occupation; Farmer
His wife's' name: Mary Ann.
And two of his brothers names; John and David.

We can also summarise that as his effects are stated as under £3000 he was of some standing within his local community. £3000 was a considerable amount of money at this time, this is further confirmed by the mourning ring itself. A ring of this carat and quality would have only been obtainable by those from a moneyed background.

We can now enter these new details in to our search perimeters. Culminating in the following information;

1851 England Census record;
Name; Thomas Bloom
Aged; 27
Household Head
Spouse; Maryann (Mary Ann)
Born; Forncett, Norfolk
Civil Parish; Melton Magna
Occupation; Farmer of 86 acres employing 6 labourers
Registration district: Henstead
Sub-registration district; Humbleyard
Household schedule; 9
Members;            Thomas Bloom     27               (as above)
                                Maryann                 24               Wife, born East Harling
                                Emma Jane            1 month    Daughter, born Melton Magna
                                David                       14                Brother, born Bawburgh

Upon reading the original document, rather than relying purely on the transcript, we find that he in fact also lived with his older brother John Bloom, aged 28, who was, according to the document, stated as the head of the household. This ties in wonderfully with the information we have already gathered from Thomas Blooms' probate records.

From researching Thomas Blooms’ occupation we can conclude he was indeed a man of good standing, to be a farmer of 86 arces was in itself a good achievement but to also employ 6 labourers shows the farm would have been successful, it is likely Thomas Bloom would have well known and hopefully respected in his local area.

We can trace Thomas Bloom back to his family home 10years beforehand;

1841 England Census;
Name; Thomas Bloom
Aged; 15
Estimated Birth Year; abt 1826 (although this is at odds with other information researched it is not unusual for mistakes to be present on census documents.)
Gender; Male
Born; Norfolk, England
Civil Parish; Melton Magna
Hundred; Humbleyard
County/ Island; Norfolk
Country; England
Registration district; Henstead
Sub-registration district; Humbleyard
Members;            John                        70                           Father, occupation farmer
                                Mary                       40                           Mother
                                Thomas                  15                          (as above)
                                Mary                       15                            Sister
                                Susanna                 13                           Sister
                                Sarah                      10                           Sister
                                Elizabeth               6                              Sister
                                David                      4                              Brother

It is vital to mention here that the original document of the 1841 census simply states John (70) as the household head and Mary (40) is simply listed after him. It is only in the transcribed records that Mary is listed as Johns’ wife. It is possible that they were indeed husband and wife but the 30year age gap does pose questions, as I have stated it’s not impossible. It could also be that Mary was John’s daughter with whom he lived, or John could have been a lodger which was not unusual for the time. Again it is something we can only theorise at and without more in-depth research the answers continue to evade us.

There is also a possibility that we can match Thomas Bloom to a marriage record;

Jul-Aug-Sep 1843, Bloom, Thomas, Norwich Norfolk, aged 20

However that is as much information as what the records give us, the name, date , area and age all fit but it is important not to get swept up in the moment. This information cannot be substantiated but I have still included the details here as I feel it adds to Thomas Blooms story. We know from his probate records that he left behind a widow, Mary Ann, so there will be a marriage record for them somewhere even if this is not it.

These records go some way to build a substantial image of Thomas Blooms' life, his family, where he lived and what he did in this life.

Employing the locations mentioned in the records we can search further and take a look at the areas Thomas Bloom lived;

An early map of Great Melton where Thomas Bloom and his family lived according to the 1851 census and Thomas Blooms’ probate records.

This is a modern day photograph of All Saints church in Great Melton, built in the 19th century, on the site of a ruined 15th century church; it was a fully functioning church by the 1850s. It is highly likely that as the parish church the Bloom family would have visited here many times.

Another photograph showing the farm land that still surrounds Great Melton, typical of the Norfolk country side and not far removed from what Thomas Bloom may have seen in his day.

This photograph shows the local public house named The Green Man, as an established pub in the 1850s it is possible Thomas Bloom may have frequented this venue, I like to think so anyway!

All these snippets of information come together to weave an elaborate web of a life lived in the beautiful Norfolk countryside, for me personally, the extent and the detail of the information that can be gleaned from what on the surface appears to a simple dedication to a lost loved one is truly amazing. It is proof that these mourning jewels afford a certain level of immortality to the individuals commemorated. I would like to think that when I leave this realm of being that there is something left of me by way to remember.

MM x

Monday, 18 July 2011

While you were gone...

Sincere apologies for my distinct lack of posts of late. The excuses are numerous yet none offer a reasonable explanation!

I am presently trying to cobble together some more insightful posts while maintaining my Twitter account @Miss_Mourning and developing a Facebook page, funnily enough by the same name!

In the not too distant future, pending delivery of certain materials, I am hoping to show case a wonderful range of hand made modern mourning jewels and sentimental pieces. 

Please do get in contact if you have any feedback or comments, or perhaps you have an item of mourning you would like to share, as always your response is much appreciated. 

Thank you for bearing with me. MM x

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Case Study; Simple swivel brooch

Pinchbeck oval swivel brooch, centre section showing woven hair.

Same as above, this time with the curl of hair shown.

The swivel function.

Close up of engraved detail.

Made of a base metal and plated in gold, a type of gold substitute referred to as pinchbeck, this oval swivel brooch is a good example of a late Victorian mourning jewel. The brooch measures 3” x 2.5” and when the backing pin is open the centre of the brooch can be rotated to reveal a double sided centre section. In the case of this brooch both sides of the centre section contain hair-work protected by a layer of clear glass. One side features brunette hair, carefully woven in a simple pattern, the other side features a curl of hair, glued in place and tied at the base with gold wire. The surround of the brooch is delicately engraved with a slight floral pattern bringing a feminine feel to the overall piece.

The style and production of this brooch is typical of the Victorian period. It is likely that the brooch is one of many types that could be ordered and then customised to the wears specification. As we have seen this brooch features two compartments containing hair-work, in other examples the hair could be replaced with miniature paintings, fabrics, cameos and even photographs of a loved one when technology allowed it.

It may only be a simple brooch, of common place design and features no inscribed dedication but it is one that I adore. There is little out of the ordinary about how it came into my possession, it simply caught my eye while at a fair one sunny morning and, as is often the way, the stall owner was only too happy to dispose of this “macabre” item for a very small sum. Upon returning home the strange coincidences surrounding this brooch came to light. Proudly wearing my newest purchase I decided to pay a visit to my Nanny. As is customary in our household I removed my coat as I stepped over the threshold and went to hang it upon the peg opposite the door. She caught sight of my brooch and exclaimed with much bewilderment;

 “Gosh, I cannot remember when I gave you that but I am so pleased you are wearing it”

After much deliberation, and consulting Nannys’ jewellery box, we finally stumbled upon the answer. I had unknowingly purchased an exact copy of a brooch Nanny owned (and still owns to this day). Her brooch passed to her through her Nanas’ family and was made to commemorate the memory of my 3rd great grandfather. According to Nanny as a little girl I would sit for hours and play with the pieces from her jewellery box, the brooch in question was a great favourite of mine. I would have been very young at the time and so have no recollection of this but a memory of sorts must have stayed with me, all be it sub-consciously. It is this introduction to mourning jewellery, and in particular Nannys brooch, at such a young age that I believe began my obsession with this subject.

So there you have it, a simple case study that goes on to reveal so much more. I leave you with the thought that everything happens for a reason even if that reason does not become clear instantly.

MM x

Friday, 4 February 2011

A brief history of mourning jewellery…

Early mourning ring, made of gold featuring black enamel highlighting the figure of a skeleton. 1779.
Brooch featuring grown hair and sepia work depicting a widow weeping over a tomb. Circa 1880
Typical Victorian brooch, made of Jet and showing an ornate pattern of initials central to the design.

It is very easy when writing on this subject to become fixated on the ideals of life and death and the connotations they allure to. I may revisit these notions at a later date, but for the purpose of this blog entry I am content to concentrate purely on the physical aspects of mourning jewellery.

It is in our nature as human beings to will there to be something more to life than simply living and dying, many of us seek comfort in the idea that life continues in some form or another once the physical being ceases to exist. In a sense mourning jewellery provides a tangible example of life and memory continuing. Throughout history human kind has been occupied with the notion of death and the afterlife.
I think one of the underlying reasons why death fascinates us is the fact death is a unifying constant. No matter your colour, creed or class death will always, eventually, find you.

Early mourning jewellery from the 16th century often depicted macabre images of skeletons, death heads and the grim reaper. The verses and dedications accompanying the jewels were usually of a sombre nature often intended as a warning to others, the pieces were fashioned to remind the wearer of the fragility of life and that death is always close, this was quite literally they case.  Infant morality rates were high, outbreaks of plague and pestilence were common place and the people were not privy to the medical knowledge that we are today.  The jewellery its self was usually fashioned from gold, sometimes featuring hair usually protected by a piece of rock crystal inlayed to the gold. Enamelling in black is often seen as black is strongly associated with mourning customs. 

As we move into the 1800s the images of death and decay are replaced with softer, more romantic imagery. This in artistic terms is considered “The age of Enlightenment”. Society saw a dramatic change in ideas and in fashions and this in turn this was reflected in mourning jewellery. No longer were macabre images considered an acceptable way to remember the dead but scenes of a more elegant nature were introduced. The dedications and verses also followed suit and became far more poetic. As before the most popular medium to work was gold, enamelling was also widely used, mainly black but other colours are know for their use to signify different meanings. White enamel was used to show the piece was commemorating the death of an innocent or unmarried individual. Hair belonging to the deceased was also used in many different ways, often in intricate braids and placed under clear crystal coverings. Hair was also woven to form the body of the jewellery and strung to be worn as chains and bracelets. Hair was even finely ground, mixed with sepia and painted onto backgrounds of ivory to form detailed pictures that could be personalised to suit the wears requirements.

During the Victorian era mourning jewellery grew in popularity. This was, in most parts, due to what the public considered fashionable. Queen Victoria’s’ prolonged mourning of her late husband Price Albert saw the fashion for mourning jewellery grow. Victorians were governed by strict customs when it came to mourning the dead, certain etiquettes had to be followed, this included wearing black, and with this sombre jewellery. Jet, a fossilised wood, was an ideal material for use in the making of mourning jewels and with the new age of industrial revolution mourning jewellery was made in a wide scale, commercial sense making it readily available in many different designs that were often personalised to suit the wearers requirements.

The popularity of mourning jewellery saw a sharp decline after WW1.  The country had suffered a great deal of loss and there was a longing to move away from customs of old. The great war changed social views and brought about changes in the class system. Mourning jewellery became an unfavourable relic of a bygone era.

In today’s modern society mourning jewellery is often thought of as a morbid subject, I have had many odd looks and whispered comments when I have, on occasion, admitted to my passion. So much so, when asked my speciality in the jewellery trade I tend to mumble something along the lines of;

“oh, erm, *coughs* sentimental jewels and the like.”

Not only to shave my blushes, but to save the questioner a need to fain interest. There are collectors in varying fields of mourning, but taboos and modern day misconceptions about death really prohibit lengthy discussions about mourning jewellery in the workplace.

Of course, the subject of mourning jewellery cannot be adequately summed up in a “brief history”, what is written here is merely a very scant overview. In later blog posts I planned to delve into key eras in more depth, hopefully you will join me.

As always it has been a pleasure,

MM x

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

The self indulgent one; a concise history of me…

I feel it appropriate to divulge a little about myself and my background before simply diving head first into a barrage of information about mourning jewellery and customs. What follows can be considered a concise history of me.

I have always adored jewellery. A plain and simple statement that needs little explanation. Call it magpie instinct but for as long as I can remember the sparkle of a diamond has always captured my attention so at the age of 16, CV in hand, I wandered up and down my local high street in search of a “proper” job. As luck would have it a kindly manager in a jewellery shop took pity on me and the very next day I was in the employment of a national jewellers. Here I was given a great level of basic training and over the following years I built on my knowledge working for independent jewellers, I sat trade exams hosted by the National Association of Goldsmiths and thoroughly enjoyed the modules of study.

On a slightly mad whim I decided to take my education further and enrolled on a gemmology course at the School of Jewellery in Birmingham. I learnt in depth the science behind gemstones; how they are formed, what gives them their colour and what makes them unique. I also developed jewellery making skills and studied the history of fine arts. This gave me a new appreciation for various artistic movements and how the world around us has a profound effect on jewellery creations.

Following my stint at university I came upon a position with an independent jewellers who deal with antique jewellery. For me this was the ideal placement, here I could combine my love of jewellery with my fascination with history. Each day I am lucky enough to deal with pieces of jewellery that are hundreds of years old. These pieces offer a glimpse into a world lost to time. They reveal not only the fashions and styles of bygone eras but also the social history in which these items were born. Mourning jewellery in particular is charged with passion, often the piece include a dedication or engraving that hint at how their owners would have lived. These pieces draw you in, they almost demand to be decoded. They are physical proof that memory and life can continue long after death.

Please join me soon for my next post; “A brief history of mourning jewellery”

MM x

Monday, 10 January 2011


Welcome to the Miss Mourning blog site.

Mourning jewellery and customs are subjects I find simply fascinating and over the coming weeks and months I hope to share my insights with you…

I cannot tell you when my obsession with mourning jewellery first began, it seem to be something instilled within me, I can however, offer a reason; the idea that somebody loved another so intensely, that even after death, they choose to commemorate that person with an adornment  with the intention to keep that person close, is a sentiment I hold dear, which ignites my passion for all things mourning.

Mourning jewels and the associated ephemera is steeped in symbolism, each piece recounts a tale of love and loss, welcoming the viewer in to a vivid world so personal and meaningful. These lovingly made pieces survive to this day, an ever lasting testament to these peoples lives.

I cannot claim to be an expert, as one is always learning, all I can offer is a promise to bring you a heartfelt and informative journey through the world of mourning jewellery.

I appreciate any feedback or comments you may wish to give, if you enjoy what you learn here please consider following my twitter account @Miss_Mourning

MM x