Ever wondered about the first undertakers in the UK? Well wonder no more as we welcome Dr Dan O’Brien to speak about this fascinating topic.
The eighteenth century was an important time for the establishment and development of the undertaking trade. In towns and cities across England, the first undertaking businesses were started by entrepreneurial artisans who adopted the title of ‘undertaker’ and performed respectable funerals for a burgeoning middle class.
The success of these businesses ensured that the social commentators of the day noticed them and so it was that undertakers were lampooned by the same satirical culture that mocked dining habits, card players and followers of fashion.
Dr O’Brien will share some of the comic representations of undertakers and give a glimpse at the shocking, occasionally nightmarish and always humorous world of the fictional undertaker. In the closing decades of the long eighteenth century, the undertaker was a recognisable motif, encountered in page, on stage and in verse.
The imagined undertaker was often depicted as a gaunt, stooping, sombre figure who lurks at the fringes of society, but what can this figure tell us about how the novel trade of undertaking was understood and received? How was the stereotypical image of the undertaker formed and what did it owe to the reality of the trade?
Dr Dan O’Brien is a Visiting Research Fellow at the Centre for Death and Society, University of Bath. His research focuses on the undertaking trade and their products in eighteenth century England. This has included a detailed analysis of the early trade in the west of England, with a specific focus on the prosperous settlements of Bath, Bristol and Salisbury. His research also seeks to understand how the undertakers and their goods were perceived by society, by analysing how funerals were presented in the popular culture of the period. Drawing upon an eclectic range of source materials has enabled him to consider simple, but often overlooked, questions about how people’s knowledge about the early trade was formed. Follow Dan on twitter: @drdan_o for beautiful death related pics, and things you might not know.
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