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Laying Out

One corner was lined from ceiling to floor with finely pleated white linen


I came to live in North Shields in 1951.  I lived next door to an elderly couple who were friendly and very helpful to a newly married woman.  Mr Howard had a very old aunt who came to visit regularly and eventually lived with them, as she became more frail.  After a while she died and the Howard’s asked if I would stay in the house while they were at the funeral and set out the meal ready for their return.  I was very willing to do this as they had been so kind to me and presented myself at their door a short time before the funeral to find out what I had to do.  They asked if I would like to see their aunt before the coffin was closed and I went in to the sitting room and was shown something I had never seen before or since.  The whole of one corner of the room was lined from ceiling to floor with finely pleated white linen and the coffin was set inside this.  The old lady was dressed in white with a lace veil over her face.

A few years ago I mentioned this to a friend and she said she had been given a set of sheets by a relative and told to keep these carefully as they were the family’s “laying out sheets”.  She had always been puzzled by these as they were at least eight feet long and she just couldn’t work out what kind of bed they would fit.  We then realised that these were the sheets which were used to hang against the wall when a coffin was kept in a house until burial and they would need to be quite long and also passed down within the family.

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