Frederic Forster's Mourning Warehouse and the disappearing trade in female mourning wear in Leeds, UK 1849-1923



Partners and collaborators

Leeds Museums and Galleries

Lower Briggate, Leeds, in 1880, featuring Frederic Forster's Leeds Mourning Warehouse, left, and a black bodice with long sleeves on a mannequin. 
Lower Briggate picture credit: Leeds Museums and Galleries


"This project is using  the small collection of items held by Leeds Museums and Galleries from Frederic Forsters' Mourning Warehouse (established 1849) to develop an understanding of why the trade in mourning wear, which dominated the High Street in the late 19th century, has now disappeared.

The project uses a variety of approaches.  The objects in the collection have been closely examined, photographed and filmed, while archival sources have been used to explore the history of Forster’s shop and the mourning trade in Leeds.

The Frederic Forster label inside a garment, left, and a black mourning coat on a mannequin

These interim findings have been shared with both expert and lay audiences in order to explore the following questions: 

  1. What cultural and symbolic work was performed by the items in Frederic Forster's mourning warehouse at the time of their production?
  2. Did mourning wear exploit women as makers and wearers?
  3. What do these items signify to a present-day audience?
  4. Has the need for special clothing to denote mourning disappeared, or is it being met by other clothing practices?


The findings will be shared as both a journal paper, and as a short film which will form part of an exhibition about death and mourning planned for Leeds Museum in 2023.  

The film will bring an appreciation of the cultural significance of mourning wear to a wide audience.  

The journal paper, meanwhile, addresses a gap in previous research. The phenomenon of the mourning warehouse has only previously been studied in the context of London: with almost nothing written about regional stores.

Project website