A c.1900 Funeral Bier from The Parish of Shepton Beauchamp, Somerset

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Origin: English
Period: Late Victorian
Provenance: The Parish of Shepton Beauchamp & The Church of St Michael, Somerset, UK
Date: c.1895-1910
Length: 74.25 inches or 104.25 inches with handles extended
Height: 44 inches (extended)
Width: 31 inches

The late Victorian period funeral hand bier, in oak and cast iron, the lift-off flat frame, designed to bear the coffin, with hinged sides and retractable carrying handles with leather strapping and rollers, the main body with hand pulling handle, sitting on large spoke cart wheels with rubber tyres, able to move on an axis survives from the historic Parish of Shepton Beauchamp, Somerset, England.

In as found condition she has not been cleaned or restored in any way so there is dirt to the oak and some rusting the cast iron, though nothing of major concern. One spoke to one of the wheels has had an attack of woodworm and as such could do with being replaced but does not compromise the stability of the whole. The piece moves freely and all the working parts are sound. She is stamped to the underside of the frame in the cast iron, we believe with ‘Made in England’, and another discernable stamp. There is a brass plaque on the bier that reads; “Presented to the Parish of Shepton Beauchamp by the Trustees of the late F. W. G. D. Robyns”.

Under the will of F. W. G. D. Robyns (d. 1934) £200 was left to his trustees to pay £4 to the bellringers for a muffled peal on All Souls Day, to provide sweets for the infants of the parish on their birthdays, and for egg shackling, the residue to be devoted to general charitable purposes within the parish. Surplus revenue from the charity, known as the Robins Trust, was used in 1953 to install electric lighting in the village streets.

This kind of bier was pulled by the bearers when the mourners were unable to afford the more luxurious and expensive horse drawn hearses. When the time for the funeral came, the casket was transported on the hand wheel bier and the mourners followed the coffin from the house on foot or in mourning carriages, of which there could be many due to most people not owning their own vehicles.

Shepton Beauchamp is an attractive village lying northeast of Ilminster between the Blackdown Hills and the Somerset Levels, with many of the 315 houses being built from local stone. It has a Saxon name ‘sheep settlement’ to which was added that of the Beauchamp family who held the manor with the barony of Hatch Beauchamp from the mid 12th century. The Church of St Michael in Shepton Beauchamp is built of local hamstone, and has 13th-century origins, although it has been extensively changed since then, with major renovation in 1865 by George Edmund Street. It has been designated as a Grade I listed building. This bier would have served both the Parish and the Church.

A truly filmic museum quality piece that is steeped in rather sorrowful but fascinating social history.

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