The Good Funeral Guide Blog

‘Eager yet kindly’ flames

Tuesday, 23 April 2013



Posted by Richard Rawlinson

After her funeral service at St Paul’s Cathedral last week, Margaret Thatcher was driven to Mortlake Crematorium in west London before the committal of her ashes alongside her beloved Denis at the Royal Hospital Chelsea.

Mortlake is a pleasant 1930s building surrounded by peaceful, landscaped gardens. HG Wells, who cremated his wife here, wrote this of its ‘rear of house’ facilities:

I should have made no attempt to follow the coffin had not Bernard Shaw, who was standing next to me, said: ‘Take the boys and go behind. It’s beautiful’. When I seemed to hesitate he whispered: ‘I saw my mother burnt there. You’ll be glad if you go’. That was wise counsel and I am very grateful for it. I beckoned to my two sons and we went together to the furnace room. The little coffin lay on a carriage outside the furnace doors. These opened. Inside one saw an oblong chamber whose fire-brick walls glowed with a dull red heat. The coffin was pushed slowly into the chamber and then in a moment or so a fringe of tongues of flame began to dance along its further edges and spread very rapidly. Then in another second the whole coffin was pouring out white fire. The doors of the furnace closed slowly upon that incandescence. It was indeed very beautiful. I wished she could have known of those quivering bright first flames, so clear they were and so like eager yet kindly living things.

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10 comments on “‘Eager yet kindly’ flames

  1. andrew plume

    Thursday 25th April 2013 at 2:39 pm

    and to coin a phrase used by a Corporate:

    “………….trust in the system, believe in the system…………….”

    which can relate to Wiki as well:-


    • Friday 26th April 2013 at 9:39 am

      Andrew, those dread words are branded on your very soul!

      • andrew plume

        Friday 26th April 2013 at 6:08 pm

        yes indeed Charles

        very best


  2. Mr XX

    Thursday 25th April 2013 at 2:02 pm

    Charles Hawtry was another. The bespectacled gentleman actor, seen in many a Carry-on movie.

  3. Wednesday 24th April 2013 at 8:14 pm

    Wonderfully tasteless, Richard. I wonder if crematorium technicians ever name a cremator after a famous occupant?

  4. Richard

    Wednesday 24th April 2013 at 7:03 pm

    There should be a GFG Trivial Pursuits: what do Tommy Cooper and Margaret Thatcher have in common? Answer: the same cremator!

  5. Tuesday 23rd April 2013 at 11:00 pm

    I’ve never thought of that — celeb cremators. Thank you, Richard.

  6. Richard

    Tuesday 23rd April 2013 at 10:46 pm

    Thanks for sharing that Fran. And Rich.

    When Sir Robin Day interviewed Margaret Thatcher, neither would have known they might have ended up in the same Mortlake cremator.

    Following Denis there has more obvious symmetry.

    Mortlake’s cremators have also been occupied by Tommy Cooper, Dick Emery, Kenny Everett and Leonard Rossiter, to name just the comedians.

  7. Tuesday 23rd April 2013 at 7:24 pm

    Her ashes are going to be interred at Royal Chelsea Hospital alongside Denis. However he family are going to leave it a few months until the furore dies down.

  8. Tuesday 23rd April 2013 at 6:18 pm

    I did exactly as H G Wells and Bernard Shaw, and watched my mother’s coffin committed to a cremator last autumn. Have to say it was partly to ensure the cremation took place immediately and she wasn’t hanging around being ‘held over’ for 72 hours to save someone somewhere some money – she’d already had a fairly impressive 22 month wait since her death as she’d donated her body to medical science, and I felt enough was enough…

    Anyway, both my brothers decided at the last minute to accompany me, and the three of us stood with our arms round each other watching as her coffin was rolled into the furnace – as it landed, glittering sparks flew all around it. Quite magical.

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