Mary Rylands’ Funeral Card 1836

Mary Rylands was the second wife of John Rylands of Bewsey House and the Summer House, Warrington. His first wife had been Martha Booth of Warrington.

John and Martha had 7 children, of whom only one lived to old age, that being John Rylands Junior, the husband of Martha Glazebrook, whose cholera diaries we have looked at and father of Thomas Glazebrook Rylands, of whom we have heard so much. Interestingly, though perhaps for another blog entry, one of their sons, Peter, drowned whilst trying to cross the bridge at Warrington during a flood, he and a friend were both washed away on horseback.

But, I am wandering off my point, as I so often do. To return to the subject of this entry, we know very little of John’s second wife, Mary. All of his children were by his first wife Martha, and he married Mary when he was 72 years old, just a few years before he died. As such, the family history tends to focus more on Martha Booth. We know that Mary had been married before, and was the widow of William Wood of Upper Tean in Staffordshire. Looking at the records we hold it was possible to work out that Mary had been born in 1760 and that she and John married in 1806 (the same year John’s first wife died), meaning that she was 46 years old at the time (giving a 26 year age gap). Martha had died in January and the marriage took place in June, the phrase “not cold in her grave” springs to mind.

However, the purpose of this blog entry was not to tut at the impropriety of such a rapid re-marriage, we can safely assume plenty of people did that at the time, a year’s mourning was the minimum for a spouse in the early 1800s. I wanted to talk today about the imagery used on the funeral card itself.

The card shows in the background a funeral procession heading towards a church and in the foreground several images symbolic of death.

To deal with the most obvious first, we will look at the funeral procession. Although the date here is 1836, the image shows a traditional Georgian funeral of the middle classes, which would have been familiar to the Regency period at the turn of the century.

We see, of course, the hearse bedecked with black ostrich plumes pulled by four black horses each with its own black ostrich feather plume and black blankets (the hearse has no windows as it was important for the coffin to be shrouded with black cloth at all times on the journey). We see the Chief Mourners’ carriage, again with its black horses, feathers etc. And at the front of the procession we see two mutes on horseback carrying wands swathed in black cloth. The mutes were just one of a selection of “paid mourners” who could take part in a funeral of this period, which could also include pages and feathermen (the feathermen carrying large poles with ostrich feathers on the top, as apparently you can never have too many ostrich feathers at a funeral).

In the foreground are the symbols of death:

Sitting upon the ruins of a lost building we see a skull, an hour glass, a scythe and a torch being extinguished, all pretty self-explanatory. We also see an image of a snake eating its own tale. This is known as the Ouroboros and symbolises the never-ending cycle of life and death.

Finally to the top of the card we have two cherubs emerging from a mandorla of cloud (the mandorla is used in art to represent an opening between heaven and earth and is shown here in the form of an oval of sunbeams and clouds).

So, in one little card we have a lot of symbolism and a little scandal (possibly a lot of scandal seeing as there is almost no mention of Mary Rylands anywhere else in the records we have of the family, so one could speculate that the rapid re-marriage did not go down too well).

This article was originally posted on Wednesday, October 29th, 2014.