Saturday, February 23, 2013

Joseph Defriez and the Freedom of the City of London

Tanner Family Line

Joseph Defriez (1793-1874) was the father of our ancestor Joseph George Defriez (1821-1887). I will eventually put together more information including the materials in George Jarvis and Joseph George Defriez (Margaret Jarvis Overson) and post it here, but in the meantime, here is a curious document.

The City of London is a district of London, about one mile square. It was the original city in Roman and medieval times. Starting in the Middle Ages, the City granted men (and some women) the Freedom of the City of London. That meant the right to work in that square mile, with a fee, policed by the Livery Companies (guilds or trade associations). Each Livery Company was known as "The Worshipful Company of..."

(Besides the normal Freemen and Free Sisters, there are also occasional Honorary Freemen of the City of London. These include people like Benjamin Disraeli, Sir Winston Churchill, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Florence Nightingale and, most recently, J.K. Rowling.)

Here is Joseph Defriez's admission paper from 1856. I cannot figure out which Livery Company he would belong to at that time, but the existence of this document means that there should be other documents regarding his Freedom. 

And now, about his profession. Joseph Defriez was a funeral feather merchant and also a Registrar of Births and Deaths. His family was middle class, consisting of professionals and and tradesmen, with connections to the minor gentility.

What is a funeral feather merchant?

To explain, let's start with a picture of Abraham Lincoln's funeral procession in New York City.

From the Library of Congress.

If you look closely at the procession, each horse is wearing ostrich plumes on its head. This was standard for Victorian funerals. From the blog The Regency Redingote:
Nearly as expensive as the rental of the vehicles, harness and horses, the black jobmaster’s fee would typically be nearly the same as that paid to the funeral featherman. Yet the featherman provided only one, if very important, component of the funeral, the tall black ostrich plume head-dresses which would be worn by each of the black horses that would draw the vehicles in the funeral procession. Ostrich feathers were very expensive and very delicate. Those used for funerals all had to be dyed a deep and even black and they all had to be fairly equal in size and shape in order to be made into an appropriate head-dress for a black horse. A dozen or more of these ostrich plume head-dresses would have to be supplied for the average upper-class funeral. Each of these fragile and costly head-dresses would then be attached to the headstall on a horse that would then proceed to treat it with no respect whatsoever. The funeral featherman and his workers would be constantly repairing and refurbishing these black ostrich plume head-dresses in order to have them ready for the next funeral.
So, a funeral feather merchant, also called a funeral featherman, would have provided these feathers for the funeral, as well as other feathers that were carried on a shield in advance of the funerals. The feather merchant may or may not have provided other funeral services as well.

The Freedom of the City of London gave Joseph Defriez the right to expand his business into the City of London.

Joseph (and his first wife Sarah Harrington and their twelve children and then after Sarah died his second wife Marian Bryan) seemed to live a comfortable existence at 10 Nichol Square, Aldergate Street, and 24 Bethnal Green (East) in London. Here is a document showing the probate of his will:

National Probate Calendar. Index of Wills and Administrations.

Sources London, England, Freedom of the City Admission Papers, 1681-1925. [Database on-line.] Provo, Utah:, 2010. Original data: Freedom admissions papers, 1681-1925. London, England: London Metropolitan Archives. COL/CHD/FR/02. London, England, Electoral Registers, 1832-1965. [Database on-line.] Provo, Utah:, 2010.
Bart, George Grey, Report of The Commissioners for The Exhibition of 1862, London: George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode, 1863, 123.
City of London. Freedom of the City. Accessed February 23, 2013.
Institute for Historical Research. Records of London's Livery Companies Online: Apprentices and Freemen 1400-1900. Accessed February 23, 2013.
Kane, Kathryn. "The Regency Way of Death: Furnishing the Funeral." The Regency Redingote. Accessed February 23, 2013.
Library of Congress. "President Lincoln's Funeral Procession in New York City." Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress.
London Metropolitan Archives. London, England, Freedom of the City Admission Papers, 1681-1925.
May, Trevor. The Victorian Undertaker. Buckinghamshire, UK: Shire Publications Ltd., 2007, 6-7.
Principal Probate Registry. Calendar of the Grants of Probate and Letters of Administration made in the Probate Registries of the High Court of Justice in England. London, England. England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966. [Database on-line.] Provo, Utah:, 2010.

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