In the late nineteenth century, British funerals became increasingly rational as they began to strip away the excesses of Victorian custom. Yet imposing public funerals for well-known figures continued to take place. Historians have previously underestimated the entertainment value which a public funeral could offer. As this article demonstrates, attendance at such funerals could only be guaranteed if the occasion held particular emotional resonance, personal appeal or came with a degree of novelty. Focusing on Middlesbrough in 1889, the circumstances surrounding two particular funerals are considered in order to understand both local shifts in values and priorities concerning death ritual, as an indicator of a broader national trend.