Mortcloths were used for the dressing of the body in cases where no coffin was used. Pauper burials, for example, did not include a coffin. In cases where coffins were used, the mortcloth was draped over the casket.
There were three types of Mortcloth:
- Best mortcloth - this was generally made of velvet, cost more to rent and was saved for the better heeled of the community. Rental fees for Best mortcloth may have averaged between 6-11/
- Regular mortcloth - this was plush but not as elegant as velvet. Rental fees for Regular mortcloth was often between 3-5/
- Child's mortcloth - this was a smaller version of the Regular mortcloth. Rental fees for a Child's mortcloth was generally 2/ or less
Typical entry for a burial. This shows the payment for the rental of "best mort cloth"
The entry reads, " Sept 17 This day was Buried Mr John Haddow in Easterseat
for best morth cloth paid 10/"
(1792 OPR Deaths 629/00 0020 0331 John Haddow, Carluke)
Well to do families often had their own mortcloth and so had no need to rent one from the local kirk. However, this may be where you see rental fees for candles, or payment for food at the reception following the burial. Or there may not be anything recorded at all.
Similarly, many trades had a mortcloth that could be used should a member of the trade die. Again, there would not be a need for the rental from the parish, so no record would exist. The records for the business or trade union may show the use of the mortcloth, but these records are generally not easily accessible unless you are in Scotland and can visit the National Library of Scotland, which has the largest collection of Trade Union records.