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An old Irish tale of Victorian Liverpool related by Tom Slemen


The funeral


In March 1979, a strange spectacle was witnessed by many on the streets of Liverpool - a ghostly funeral procession from the Edwardian or Victorian eras. Around one in the afternoon, people enjoying window seats at Kirkland's Café on Hardman Street noticed a tall gaunt looking man in a long black coat walking up the road outside. He wore a tall top hat with long ribbons streaming from it in the cold March breeze. In his hand he held a staff with a black ribbon attached to it. About twenty feet behind the old fashioned jaywalking undertaker, or 'featherman' as they were called, there followed two large muscular dark horses, and they were pulling an elegant four-wheeled hearse. Large black feathery plumes bobbed from their head harnesses. The coffin in the hearse was barely visible because of the rose-wreaths and floral tributes that decked the carriage.

Three four-wheeled carriages formed the rest of the cortege, all horse drawn of course, presumably taking the mourners to the funeral service. The horses, carriages and undertaker in his suit of mourning sable, all seemed real enough, and bystanders assumed that someone was merely being sent off in style. Some said that the cortege had been seen earlier on Rodney Street, and that when it moved off it proceeded through a red light, almost causing a fatal crash. Well, it seems that the hearse-driver continued to show a total disregard for traffic lights as he steered his horses across the junction into Myrtle Street. A Mini screeched to a halt, and the driver wound down his window to vent a mouthful of swear-words to the featherman and the hearse-driver. He beeped his horn in a moment of thoughtlessness - but the horses of the cortege never responded.

Later that day, the horse-drawn mourners were seen going up Gorsey Lane, coming from the direction of the Ford Cemetery. Again the cortege caused mayhem with the traffic, but when the police turned up in the area, they could find no trace of the mourners. The featherman, the drivers and the bereaved alike had seemingly vanished into thin air. Police made enquiries at the cemetery but no old-fashioned hearse and carriages had even been seen in the vicinity. People in the neighbourhood of Ford had seen the very same ghostly funeral procession years before in the 1950s, and some thought the eerie vision preceded death and bad luck to those who beheld it.




This story reproduced with permission from Tom Slemen

© Copyright 2004 by Tom Slemen. All Rights Reserved.

Last modification: November 9, 2007


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