Victorian Mourning Jewellery

A couple of blogs ago I mentioned that after the death of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria sunk into a deep depression and stayed in seclusion for many years, rarely appearing in public. She mourned him by wearing black for the remaining forty years of her life. 

In the 40’s when I was growing up, I remember that my parent’s were very superstitious. Was this a legacy of the Victorians? If someone died in the house, the clocks were stopped to ward off more death and bad luck. 

From what I recall the dead had to be taken out of the house feet-first. I never understood why until, many years later, I consulted my  friend Mr Google He said that they had to be carried this way to prevent death from taking another family member. Mirrors were draped in cloth to prevent the deceased’s spirit from getting trapped in the glass. Neighbours drew their curtains in respect. The deceased lay in the front room and we trooped past paying our last respects. It scared me.

Trendy Victorian-Era Jewellery Was Made From Human Hair

Even today, it’s quite common to hold onto a piece of jeweliery from a dearly departed relative. But during the Victorian era, mourners didn’t just wear Grandma’s favourite earrings: they actually wore a bit of Grandma, herself. This  was a way to keep the dead person close-literally. 

Pieces of the deceased’s hair were often included in mourning jewellery either coiled under a piece of crystal in a ring, braided into a necklace, or placed into a locket like the one below found by a Scottish detectorist.

Found by a Scottish Detectorist

When finding such an intimate and no doubt cherished artefact, the detectorist wonders about the circumstances of its loss. Was it a piece of mourning jewellery or its very close cousin, a sentimental locket owned by a ‘sweetheart’? We can speculate forever, but never know for sure; we can only guess. Determining whether an item of jewellery of this nature is merely sentimental or true mourning can be tricky.

Mourning jewellery has been around for a long time. A locket containing a lock of the deceased person’s hair became popular. I’ve even read that some lockets didn’t necessarily contain hair from the deceased, but from supplies that had been imported into the country to keep up with the demand.

The large heavy-looking locket attached with a velvet ribbon and worn by the Victorian lady in the photograph was a fashion ‘accessory’ of the time (should that be necessity?) In addition to a lock of her sweetheart’s hair, there may have been a portrait of her loved one.

It’s a fact that a hundred or so years ago, no well-dressed person would have considered his or her mourning outfit complete with a piece – or preferably several pieces – of special jewellery.

As well as being a souvenir of the deceased the brooch also served as a ‘Memento Mori’, a reminder to the living of the inevitability of death.

Victorians loved jewellery made from hair; it was a huge industry, and not only for mourning. Today I suspect that the idea of wearing a locket with hair would be frowned upon and dismissed as a macabre bauble. But then, what do I know about current trends! So, is the Scottish detectorist’s find a locket worn proudly by a sweetheart, or a piece of mourning jewellery? I think the latter.

Macabre Portraits

Painted portraits were also popular in the 1800s, but such a memento was quite expensive. So when the daguerreotype was invented in 1839, it became a cost-effective alternative to portraiture. Photography also became a popular way for Victorians to immortalize their dead loved ones — especially children, who died at alarming rates throughout the Victorian era. In some post-mortem photos, the deceased look to be in a deep sleep; in others, their eyes are propped open, or painted directly onto the photograph. Sometimes, living relatives even posed with their dead loved ones.

Text and Picture Courtesy of History Daily


John Brassey found this example of mourning jewellery In 2017 and shares it with us. Thank you John.

The inscription on the reverse reads: In Memory of Martha Tayler … 4 February 1825 Age? 75

Helen Owens – who features in my next blog – shares a piece of mourning jewellery she found ‘years ago’. What do you think is inside? Helen doesn’t know.

This pendant is very special . . .

9 thoughts on “Victorian Mourning Jewellery

  1. Very interesting John, how times have changed, even in my childhood years I remember well my mother closing all of the curtains in respect of the deceased neighbours and the men would doff their caps as the hearse passed by.
    My wife still has a treasured gold locket with a photograph of her mother in her younger years.
    Keep up the good interesting scribblings.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Times have changed. Not many people wear caps nowadays.
      Some honk the horn of the vehicle they are driving if the hearse is going slowly. Yes, I have witnessed this! 😦


  2. I have collected Jet Mourning and hair jewellery for years .. a morbid fascination perhaps but I think they are beautifully made .. some are very intricate patterns . I quite like the idea of somebody having a lock of my hair to remember me .. however I do not like my picture being taken a the best of times and I certainly do not like the idea of somebody taking pictures of me when after I have gone!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I well remember these items John.. In fact, I have found a couple over the years [but this is in Victoria, B.C., so perhaps not unexpected]..I wish I could send you a photo but at the moment, they are all ‘somewhere’ in the storage unit.. once I get it unpacked, I will send off a picture


    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi John there appears to be sum what of a revival in this sort of practice my dear friend and her two sisters have had lockets and a ring made containing ash from their mothers cremation. eeek!

    Liked by 1 person

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