Ornamental Wreath, made with locks of hair, in the Norwich Historical Society Collection

Do you have little envelopes containing locks of hair from your child’s first haircut? If so, your collection is part of a tradition of saving hair that dates back to at least Queen Victoria.

The death of Queen Victoria’s consort, Prince Albert, in 1861, ushered in a period of mourning and sentimentality that quickly reached our shores.  Hair, being a lasting and tangible memento of the living or deceased, was often incorporated into jewelry or just kept as a keepsake.  By the mid to late 1800s mourning wreaths became an artistic way of memorializing a loved one and celebrating the bonds of family.

Nimble fingers wound or braided hair from both the deceased and family members into flowers and leaves.  These individual ornaments were brought together and attached to wire forms.  Books and ladies’ magazines provided detailed instruction.

Not all wreaths were made in memory of a particular individual.  Church members and students also made hair wreaths to celebrate their union.  Wreaths in the shape of horseshoes such as this one in the NHS collection indicated mourning, the opening in the center symbolizing the deceased’s assent into heaven.  The large floral ornament at its base would have been made from hair of the deceased.

Brigham home–possibly Annie Brigham standing in the center.

Annie Brigham Douglass (1869-1953) was the daughter of Andrew and Abba Brigham.  She grew up in the house at 172 Brigham Hill Road. It is entirely possible that the wreath was made to memorialize Annie’s grandfather, William Brigham (1808-1888), whose own grandfather was Paul Brigham (1746-1824) for whom Brigham Hill was named.