Mourning Bands and Weepers

Swinfen Eady

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):

BANDS

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.

 

MOURNING BANDS

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.

 

WEEPERS

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” .

6 thoughts on “Mourning Bands and Weepers

  1. James Vine

    I can remember being in court after the death of the Queen Mother, when one Silk wore Mourning Bands and Weepers, (making something of a show of it) He was not a man much troubled by modesty!

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  2. Phil

    Fascinating. These must be different weepers from the one referred to in the folk song “Lowlands” – I bound the weeper around my head
    For then I knew my love was dead

    The singer goes on
    I’ll cut away my bonny hair
    No other man shall call me fair

    so presumably this ‘weeper’ was more in the nature of a headscarf or wimple.

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    1. John deP Wright

      The simple answer may be that on occasion Bands or Tabs have mistakenly been called “Weepers”. On the other hand I understand that Bands are not worn in Scotland but rather the white bow tie.

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  3. Peter Barr

    Mounrning bands and weepers may not have been worn in the Royal Courts of Justice for a long time but I remember wearing mourning bands in the Cambridge Crown Court when HM Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, died. The Silks wore mourning bands and weepers. I still have my mourning bands in my circuit tin. Our clerks bought the bands (in bulk) from Ede and Ravenscroft and sent them to all members of Chambers on circuit. The fact that the Queen Mother was the Royal Bencher of the Middle Temple certainly meant fellow Middle Templars wished to give a public demonstration that we were in mourning.

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