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Arval Cake

Lancashire, Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Cumbria, Durham, Northumberland

(Or Arthel, Arthal, Averill, Arvil, Arvall)

A form of biscuit or flat cake, or enriched bread, served at a funeral.

Wooden Arval Cake marker
Image from Dales Countryside Museum via: www.mylearning.org

The term 'arval' for funeral food is well known and may derive from the old Norse 'Arf' = inheritance, 'Al' = ale.

TT Wilkinson's 'Lancashire Folklore' of 1867 has;
"Usually at country funerals, after the interment, the relations first, and next their attendants, threw into the grave sprigs of bay, rosemary, or other odoriferous evergreens, which had been previously distributed amongst them. In some cases, a messenger went round the neighbourhood, "bidding" parties to the funeral, and at each house where he gave the invitation, he left a sprig of rosemary, &c. After the rites at the grave, the company adjourned to a neighbouring public-house, where they were severally presented with a cake and ale, which was called an arval."

... and from the 'Derby Daily Telegraph' of Tuesday 24 March 1931:
Helping the Widow
"Referring to record of old customs, I learn that there was a belief in Derbyshire that every drop of wine drunk a funeral was sin committed by the deceased, consequently wine was drunk in order to "release the soul of the dead from the burden of sin." A northern custom entailed the providing of arval bread; the guests were expected to place a shilling on the plate used for handing round the funeral biscuits. From family experience I know that it used to be the custom for Yorkshire people to take the opportunity of showing sympathy by attending the funeral in a brake provided by the bereaved. After the ceremony such uninvited guests "left something in the widow's hand." "

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