In October of last year, after completing work on St Helen’s Church, the Buildings Team began work beside the church’s graveyard on a Georgian Hearse House. It will help us to tell a more complete and in-depth story of our Georgian area. When finished, it will house one of the rarest objects in our collections; probably Britain’s oldest hearse, built in 1828. The simple two-wheeled hearse was collected by the Museum in the 1960s from Marrick Priory, a former Benedictine nunnery in the Swaledale area of North Yorkshire. This early and vernacular horse-drawn vehicle is exceptionally rare, and perhaps more so, as we are aware of its origin and history. We even have a record of its very first occupant, as the Marrick Priory registry records: ‘1828 April 2nd, Mary widow of Thomas Hillary [a farmer], Lanehead House, aged 67, Hearse first time used’. The completion of the hearse house at St Helen’s Church will mean that this amazing object will now have a permanent home of its own and be on display to the public for the first time in decades.
Our stone-built hearse house is a copy of the one at Marrick Priory which originally housed this hearse and is contemporary with our church, although it incorporates earlier elements of the Priory church.
The building is progressing quickly and the main structure is now complete. Paul and Cos have finished all of the stonework, while Shaun and Dan were responsible for the joinery in the building, including the roof structure and doors. The roofers are now busy working on laying the stone slab for the roof.
Once the exterior of the building has been completed, we will then turn our attention to the interior. Our newest team member, Shannon, has been researching the interiors of these kinds of buildings in order to inform how our own will look when finished.