At the same time as Victorian close relatives of the dead wore deep or half mourning, they also wore special jewellery. This was most often in dark colours, particularly jet from Whitby. In addition, brooches, rings and arm ornaments were made using hair from the deceased relative. The Pitt Rivers Museum contains many such objects.
By 1873 fifteen hundred men were said to work in the trade and two hundred men were mining the raw mineral.
Mourning jewellery continued to be worn in the early twentieth century though by 1926 it was obviously under attack:
Beatrice Blackwood, found on the beach in Whitby. She explained that:
'If these mortuary jewels were as a whole very ugly, what shall be said of the hideous lumps of crudely manufactured jet which it is still considered by some classes of society to be necessary to wear when "in mourning" or the even more preposterous "half mourning" sets of ear-rings and the like, in which a little silver is introduced to lighten the effect. Whitby, which for centuries has been the seat of the jet industry, still carries on a trade in these ghoulish appendages, impervious alike to enlightenment or ridicule.' [Puckle, 1926: 270-1]
Whitby Museum Jet Collection web page where the last image is a model of Whitby Abbey carved by Lyth ]
'...the jet is ground on a wheel made of lead and some tin, using emory powder. The wheel was worked by a foot-treadle, recently electric power had been installed. Polishing is done with "rotten stone", a soft abrasive of solidified river mud, on a board covered with woollen cloth and finished on a beach covered with walrus hide. ' [Pitt Rivers Museum accession book XVI 43]
Anyone interested in jet jewellery is advised to visit Whitby Museum which has many fine examples on display.
The Pitt Rivers Museum has many examples of mourning ornaments, including:
A large number of mourning ornaments made from jet are displayed at the bottom of case Case 41.B - Body Arts - Death and Mourning in the Lower Gallery. These include 1956.4.2, 1960.7.1 (strings of jet beads donated by the Misses Watters), 1941.8.0129 and 1961.3.020 donated by Estella Canziani,
J.A. Bower 'Whitby Jet and its Manufacture', Journal of the Society of Arts, volume 22, 19 December 1873 pp. 80-7
J.E. Hemingway, 1958, 'The Geology of the Whitby Area', in G.H.J. Daysh A Survey of Whitby and the surrounding area Eton, Windsor: Shakespeare Head Press
J.E. Hemingway and D.H. Rayner (Eds.) The Geology and Mineral Resources of Yorkshire Yorkshire Geological Society. 1974.
H.P. Kendall 1936 The Story of Whitby Jet
M. McMillan 1992 Whitby Jet through the Ages Published privately
Helen Muller, 1994 Jet Jewellery and Ornaments Shire Album No. 52
J.S. Owen, 'Jet Mining in North East Yorkshire' The Cleveland Industrial Archaeologist , No. 3, 1975
C. Parkin 'On Jet Mining' Transactions of the N. England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers . XXXI, 1882 pp. 51-7
Bertram S. Puckle 1926 Funeral Customs: their origin and development London T. Werner Laurie Ltd
[part of this list was taken from the Whitby Museum website]
A description of how to make hair ornaments is given in on an American site, Ancestry.com - Victorian Death Rituals
'Preparation was important. The hair must be boiled in soda water for 15 minutes. It was then sorted into lengths and divided into strands of 20-30 hairs. Most pieces of jewelry required long hair. For example, a full size bracelet called for hair 20 to 24" long. Sometimes horse hair was used because it was coarser than human hair, and thus easier for a beginner.
Almost all hairwork was made around a mold or firm material. Snake bracelets and brooches, spiral earrings and other fancy hair forms required special molds which were made by local wood turners. The mold was attached to the center hole in the work table. The hair was wound on a series of bobbins, and weights were attached to the braid work to maintain the correct level and to keep the hair straight. When the work was finished and while still around the mold, it was taken off, boiled for 15 minutes, dried and removed from the mold. It was then ready to go to a jewelers for mounting.'
According to Hallam and Hockey:
'[t]he potency of human remains as facilitators of personal memory is evident in the uses of hair jewellery sustained from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century in Northern Europe. Worked into brooches, lockets, rings, and bracelets (often with the use of precious metals and stones) human hair has extended memory connections through the powerful evocation of the person to whom it once belonged. ... Human material that was regarded as 'dead' while the person was living, is thus transformed into a 'living' substance at death in the sense that it is reanimated as a possession capable of sustaining the deceased in close proximity to the bereaved. The physical durability of hair makes this possible as it stands in stark contrast to the instabilities of the fleshy body.' [2001: 136]
Hair was used for a variety of different ornaments, a mourning ring in the Museum's collections, given by Mrs James Blackwood (who was also known as Mrs King and who may have been the mother of Beatrice Blackwood, who worked in the Museum), was made of gold, black enamel and hair inset behind onyx. [ link to Relational Museum section on BB ] The ring is inscribed inside "Robert Ritchie died 3rd May 1871 Aged 75".[1940.7.28] The same donor gave other mourning rings: 1940.7.29, a gold mourning ring with hair encircled with seed pearls; and 1940.7.30 made from hair and twisted wire. These are on display in Case 99 in the Lower Gallery [if I get them moved].
An example of a mourning hair brooch in the Museum's collections is 1927.57.2, a small brooch in the shape of a lyre made from gold with the hair of a relative worked into the design. This ornament was given by Anna Meredith Barrett-Lennard in 1927 but had been owned by an aunt of her husband's, who died in around 1890 aged over 80.
Another set of examples are the four hair ornaments given by Mrs Robert Francis Wilkins in 1928. These were a neck ornament, two hair pins and a brooch 'cleverly mounted' (according to the accession book) with the hair of two children, Bertie and Frankie Wilkins who had died by 1867. The book says that they were made as memorial ornaments after the fashion of the earlier half of the nineteenth century. [1928.15.2] [ Please also link here to http://www.prm.ox.ac.uk/ornaments.htm which is a museum factsheet, preferably to the bit that relates to death ]
Pastorella Shelley in 1949 gave a mourning hair arm ornament, made from plaited and netted grey hair, which had been taken from Mrs Farrer, the donor's maternal great-grandmother in January 1867. [1949.10.41]
Sometimes the hair was not made into an ornament but was stored within it. Estella Canziani gave a silver locket in the shape of a heart, which contained hair and was engraved "August 13th 1889" (presumably the date of death of the person from whom the hair came). [1961.3.019]
A large number of mourning ornaments made from hair, including 1927.57.2, 1928.15.2, 1940.7.28, 1949.10.41 and 1961.3.019 (all mentioned above), are displayed at the bottom of case Case 41.B - Body Arts - Death and Mourning in the Lower Gallery.
Christiane Holm 'Sentimental Cuts: Eighteenth-Century Mourning Jewelry with Hair' Eighteenth-Century Studies , Vol. 38, No. 1, Hair. (Autumn, 2004), pp. 139-143.