This is a picture of Sir Charles Swinfen Eady, a Chancery judge who was Master of the Rolls for one year, between 1918 and 1919.
The picture is noteworthy because Sir Charles is wearing mourning bands and weepers. These always used to be worn by judges and QCs in court during a period of court mourning. Junior barristers simply wore the mourning bands.
The practice of court mourning was extended to embrace the death of more distant members of the Royal Family, so that I can remember it happening every few years during the second half of the twentieth century. It usually lasted for a week.
The last time that mourning bands and weepers were worn in court was to mark the death of King Olav V of Norway in January 1991. At his death he was the last surviving grandchild of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. (When he told the authorities at Balliol College that he had been late back into college the previous night because he had been attending his grandmother’s funeral, he was told to think of a better excuse next time…)
Our clerks used to sew the weepers on to the sleeves of our court dress, and by this time the practice was so unfamiliar that by midweek half the judges were wearing their weepers one way round, and the other half the other way round. An edict then came down from the Lord Chief Justice’s office prescribing uniformity for the rest of the week, regardless of which way was right or wrong.
The practice then lapsed, and it was not revived following the deaths of either Princess Margaret or Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.
Here are some explanations of what I have been talking about (with thanks, once again, to my Canadian friend John deP. Wright):
The two small strips of linen which are worn at the neck as part of legal, clerical or academic dress are known as `Bands’. They are the survivors of the falling collar of the 17th century. They were also described as “tippets” in ecclesiastical circles. The ecclesiastical version of tabs began as a silk or linen scarf wrapped around the neck, tied at the front with the two ends left to hang down.
When the court goes into mourning, “mourning bands” used to be worn. These are the normal bands which are folded over on the edge and in the centre to make pleats. This gives them a dark look.
When the court went into mourning, in addition to the “mourning bands”, the cuffs of the waistcoat were covered with a white material so you can use your sleeve to dry your eyes. These coverings are known as “weepers” .