The Funeral as an Opportunity for Social Display, 1700 – 1820
: With a specific focus on the West Country.

  • Daniel O'Brien

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


The thesis examines eighteenth-century funerals as opportunities for social display. It analyses funerals in the region around the cities of Bath, Bristol and Salisbury, identified as the West Country. This is a prosperous and interesting region which has not been studied by existing literature on funerary consumption. The thesis demonstrates that funerals were intended to be respectable occasions, organised and performed by professionals and attended by the people with close social ties to the deceased. The funeral is presented as a display of status that used the goods and services of the developing undertaking trade.
The thesis opens with an analysis of the professionals who organised and performed the funeral, the undertakers and clergy. The professionals’ roles are outlined, and the perception of these roles is considered. Three different types of funeral are examined, showing how widely the funeral was used as an opportunity for social display. The intimate, ‘private’ funeral is presented as a celebration of personal achievement which was intended for the friends and family of the deceased. The funerals of the elite are presented as ostentatious occasions in which the display was tailored to the different audiences that the funeral party encountered. The funerals of three nonconformist communities are shown to be less ostentatious occasions in which social ties and the personal qualities of the deceased were of paramount importance. Analysis of the nonconformist funerals shows the importance of justification for different goods and services used by mourners. In all three types of funeral, the thesis identifies the importance of funerary professionals and their funerary goods. The final chapter examines the act of general mourning for a deceased monarch during a period in which loyalist enthusiasm was high. The thesis shows that general mourning provided opportunities for consumers and retailers to demonstrate their status and respectability.
Date of Award6 Nov 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorRichard D Sheldon (Supervisor) & James Thompson (Supervisor)

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