|Barry and Heather Richards
|Burial in Woollen
Noted in some old burial records
Many family historians searching parish registers have come across the phrase "buried in woollen" or a reference to "the affidavit". Sometimes another name appears in the register either alongside the actual entry or listed at a later date. This is the name of some person who either laid out the body for burial or viewed the body before the funeral and has sworn that the regulations have been followed.
In some registers, there are also entries detailing infringements and the subsequent payment of fines.
The decline of the woollen industry on which so many places this country depended brought, in 1678, an Act of Parliament intended to create a new market for woollen cloth.
In Parish Registers, from 1678, following the record of the burial, there is an entry "the affidavit brought". In the reign of Charles II, Parliament passed "An Act for burying in woollen only " and it enacts:
the encouragement of of the woollen manufactures of this kingdom and
prevention of the exportation of the monies thereof, for the buying and
importation of linen.
Be it enacted by the
King's most excellent Majesty and with the consent of the Lords
Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons in this present Parliament
assembled, and by the authority thereof, that from and after the five
and twentieth day of March in the year of our Lord, one thousand six
hundred seventy seven, no person or persons whatever shall be buried in
any shirt, shift or sheet made of or mingled with flax, hemp, silk,
hair, gold or silver, or other than what shall be made of Wool only, or
be put into any coffin lined or faced with anything made of or mingled
with flax, hemp, silk or hair; Upon pain of the forfeiture of the sum
of five pounds, to be employed to the use of the poor of the parish
where such person shall be buried, for or towards providing a stock or
work house for the setting them to work, to be levied by the
churchwardens and overseers of the poor of such parish or one of them by
that no penalty appointed by this Act, shall be incurred for or by the
reason of any person that shall die of the plague, though such person
be buried in linen."
But it was not easy to
carry out this legislation. The wrapping of a corpse in linen is older
than Christianity itself, and the old custom could not be broken down
by Act of Parliament, and its provisions were easily avoided. In this
condition of things, another Act, far more stringent, was passed 12
years later in 1690 and it was enacted that within eight days of the
funeral an affidavit of the fact of the burial being in woollen should
be brought to the minister, failing which notice should be given to the
churchwarden or overseer, who would levy on the defaulting person for
the recovery of the fine.
This new act was very sweeping, but was not more successful than the former one, and long before its repeal in 1812, it had fallen into disuse.