11 September 2011

A dying tradition

When I hear the sound of hooves, I grab the camera. There's something attention-getting about horses on today's streets ... and this throwback to a Victorian funeral procession.

This country has seen some magnificent state funerals -- pomp and ceremony galore -- and even a re-creation of Nelson's funeral. At the other end of the social spectrum, "having a good send-off" is not an unimportant event. Traditionally people saved throughout their lives for their own funeral - ah the ignominy of a pauper's grave...

Back to the horses - why the plumes? "Dependant upon its splendour an elaborate funeral in the late 1800 would consist of a horse drawn hearse hitched to four black horses wearing plumes of ostrich feathers and velvet drapes to cover the horses. Traditionally black carriages and black horses wearing black plumes were used for an adult funeral and white horses wearing white plumes were used for the funeral of children and youths."

Horse drawn hearses took coffins to Victorian cemeteries, which were at the edge of town. Replaced by motor hearses, they disappeared in the 1950s but were reintroduced in the mid-80s.

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