The Good Funeral Guide Blog

Packed to the rafters

Friday, 12 September 2014



One night in the early 1700s,  Henry Trigg was making his way home when he heard a disturbance in the churchyard. Looking closer, he saw, to his horror of course, grave-robbers making off with a freshly-buried corpse. 

He continued on his way, resolving never to let the same thing happen to him. (He isn’t reported to have tried to stop the outrage.) 

Having made a decent stash as a grocer he offered his fortune to any of his relatives who agreed to one condition: that his body be “decently laid … upon a floor in the roof.” 

In 1724 he died. His brother did as he asked, popped him, coffined, up in the rafters of the roof of his barn, and pocketed the cash. 

There he lay.

In 1774 the barn became part of the Old Castle Inn. He slumbered on. In 1831 a new landlord checked up on him and found him safe and sound. In 1906 East Hertfordshire Archaeological Society had a peek and found him still in residence. 

During the First World War, soldiers stationed in the town picked bits of him out. 

In 1999 the new owner, NatWest bank, had him decently buried. 

His coffin remains there to this day. No. 37 High Street, Stevenage.  









14 years ago today

Thursday, 11 September 2014




Posted by Richard Rawlinson

Do you remember what you were doing on 9/11/2001? I was visiting the offices of BSkyB in London, discussing media issues in a meeting room that had a TV screen on a wall showing Sky News with the volume down. Our conversation came to an abrupt halt as we became aware of something terrible unfold—virtually live footage of the first plane to hit the first tower in New York. As it became clear this was a terrorist attack, a Sky executive lined me up to interview the TV news anchor about the challenges of responding on air to a rolling news atrocity. It felt opportunist when the loss of thousands of innocent people was just sinking in. 

As for learning of Princess Diana’s death on 13 August 1997, I recall being woken before 6am on a weekend morning by a phone call from a friend who had been out clubbing all night. On leaving the club, no doubt on a drug come-down, he heard the news circulating among numbed strangers in the streets. He headed to Buckingham Palace to witness the first people laying down bouquets of flowers at the railings. He felt part of something significant and tragic and felt compelled to phone friends to share the shocking news. I turned on the TV and watched in a dressing gown before deciding it was time to shower and hit the streets myself.  

Yesterday, I was talking to American photographer Gary Dunkin, who reminded me of these death milestones. I wasn’t aware he’d captured 9/11 moments until he directed me to his website. He couldn’t bring himself to sell any of them though.

You can see them here

Death releases both Ivan Ilyich and his folk

Wednesday, 10 September 2014



On 9 September, Leo Tolstoy was wished a Happy 186th Birthday by Google Doodle. The Google homepage included a slideshow of Tolstoy’s works, including War and Peace, Anna Karenina and The Death of Ivan Ilyich.

The latter, written shortly after Tolstoy’s religious conversion, tells the story of the premature death of a Russian legal whizzkid. Living what seems to be a good life, aside from his rocky marriage, Ivan Ilyich injures his side while hanging plush curtains in his flashy new apartment. Within weeks, he has developed a pain that will not go away. Several expensive doctors are consulted, but they can neither explain nor treat his condition.

He’s dying and the novella records his terror as he battles with the idea of his own death. ‘I have been here. Now I am going there. Where?’ Oppressed by the length of the process, his family, friends and associates decide not to speak of it, but advise him to stay calm and follow doctors’ orders.

He spends his last days in agony and anguish but, just before his death, he sees with clarity that he has not, after all, lived well, but has lived only for himself. He suddenly feels pity for the people he’s leaving behind, and hopes his death will set them free. With that thought, his pain disappears. Just before his last breath, he whispers to himself, ‘Death has gone’.

Good Funeral Awards 2014 – the WINNERS

Sunday, 7 September 2014


Funeral Director of the Year

Sarah Clarke of Arka Original Funerals

Most Promising New Funeral Director of the Year  – sponsored by the Church of England

Sarah Stuart and Lel Wallace of Wallace Stewart

Green Funeral Director of the Year sponsored by GreenAcres

Tracy O’Leary, Woodland Wishes

Association of Green Funeral Directors Green Funeral Director of the Year

Gordon and Alison Tulley, Respect Woodland Green Burial Parks

Funeral Arranger of the Year

Angela Bailey of Harrison Funeral Home

Celebrant of the Year

Dee Ryding

Embalmer of the Year

Bob Dyer of A Dyer & Sons and Midland Embalming Service

Gravedigger of the Year

Jonny Laxley

Crematorium Attendant or Manager of the Year

Peter Rodwel, Seven Hills

Eternal Slumber Coffin Supplier of the Year

Roger Fowle

Best Alternative Hearse

Claire Brooks, Volkswagen Funerals

Cemetery of the Year

Clandon Wood

Blossom d’Amour Award for Funeral Floristry

Cassandra Thompson of Stems, New Covent Garden

Most Significant Contribution to the Understanding of Death

Jon Underwood, Death Café

Best Internet Bereavement Resource


Lifetime Achievement Award

Chris Parker


Calling all you lastminuters!

Friday, 5 September 2014



The Ideal Death Show starts today. There will be great speakers, great exhibitors, great fellowship and great fun.

The event will have all its usual hallmarks: 

  • No hush and awe
  • No black suits
  • inclusive
  • unstuffy
  • chatty
  • amazing cakes (how great thou art)

Didn’t get around to booking??

No worries. Saturday’s the day to be there. We can still probably fit you in. Text or phone Charles 07557 684 515 or Brian 07545 232 980 and we’ll see what we can do. (The Good Funeral Awards Gala Dinner on Saturday evening is full to bursting.)





Peter Pan and the could-have-beens

Thursday, 4 September 2014

George Llewelyn Davies

George Llewelyn Davies

Posted by Richard Rawlinson

The two-minute silence, the candle-lit vigil and the ‘lights out’ remembrance ritual have all played a part in World War One centenary commemorations this year.

The Great War’s anniversary topicality has also sparked interest in its history, whether reading, or visiting the extremely well-curated centenary exhibition at London’s Imperial War Museum.

It was Stalin who stated of death: ‘one is a tragedy; one million is a statistic’. Individual stories do indeed make it easier to empathise with universal suffering and sacrifice. Shame they failed to move the Soviet sadist.

While researching the life and death of a relative killed, aged 24, in the trenches of at St Eloi on 14 March, 1915, I stumbled across the fact that George Llewelyn Davies, one of the brothers who inspired JM Barrie’s Peter Pan and the Lost Boys, fell on the same day at the same place, and also as a result of being shot in the head.

George, pictured here in his final year at Eton in 1912, was by now being fostered by Barrie, who had become his guardian on the death of George’s mother in 1910. George had lost his father in 1907, and was close to ‘Uncle Jim’, exchanging letters regularly while he was away at school.

Barrie began writing Peter Pan when George was 10. In response to Barrie’s tale about babies who died and went to live in Neverland, the boy reportedly inspired Peter Pan’s memorable line, ‘To die will be an awfully big adventure’.

Had George lived, he might, conceivably, have started a family around 1920. His offspring might have started families of their own around 1950, meaning this generation would be around retirement age right now. They in turn may have had children around 1980, meaning George’s great grandchildren could be 30somethings now, and producing their own bundles of joy. 

So it goes on, this awfully big adventure of life and death. One death has prevented others from themselves experiencing life and death. And we, of course, might have been ‘could-have-beens’, too, had a direct descendant died earlier. It goes without saying that if our grandparents hadn’t had our parents, neither they nor we would be around either.

This leads to a flight of fancy almost worthy of Peter Pan. For millennia, people have believed in life after death, but it’s less common for human imaginations to dwell on the possibility of there being a life of some kind before conception and life on earth? We need to live to die, but Fate ensures millions miss out on this living and dying thing.

A moment of silence or applause, or light a candle or raise a glass, to those who went before, those who are here now, those who are yet to come and those who could have been but weren’t.

Give others a chance to help pay for child funerals

Wednesday, 3 September 2014



What an interesting debate that was, the one about whether undertakers and celebrants should charge for the funerals of children. A great many people followed it silently; the 25 comments represent a tiny fraction of the overall readership.

The debate was not conducted on a level of dispassionate logic, so neither side prevailed, but the heart-over-head faction had the greatest numerical support.

Lucy defined a rationale for charging: “I understand completely why other funeral directors on here wouldn’t charge, but if we applied the same emotional response to every family who walked through the door, we wouldn’t be in business for very long … people die in exceptionally tragic circumstances every day … why don’t they get a free funeral?” 

Gloria Mundi defined the heart-over-head position: “We can’t charge according to some personal tragedy-meter. Rationally, I can see no reason for not charging, but ‘the heart also has its reasons.’”

X Piry agreed: “On a logical level, I know that charging is the right thing to do, but it just doesn’t sit right with me.”

Any cool-headed rationalist will be driven potty by all this. If the parents of children who have died are worthy of financial help then, by the same measure, so too, surely, are those adults who, in Wendy Coulton’s words, “have become full time devoted carers of a relative who has been in their life for over 50 years. They are often living on the breadline because they gave up work to look after their loved one. Their loss is profound, not only for the person who has died but their own identity and sense of purpose. They have no concessions on funeral costs.

Why not? Because they don’t tug at the heartstrings in the same way, obviously. And what this inconsistency illustrates is that, while some causes are more glamorous than others, the less glamorous are no less deserving. This accounts for why, for example, Help for Heroes has raised a sum approaching £200 million for wounded servicemen, but charities who work with the disproportionate number of ex-servicemen who are in prison or sleeping rough struggle to raise anything at all. Research into breast cancer fundraises more effectively than prostate cancer. This is mostly down to relative anatomical attractiveness.

For all their robustness, rational arguments don’t win converts. It’s the way of the world. But let’s at least not kid ourselves: funeral poverty in the wider population is a cause of equal value.

Where we can probably agree is that what all parents of children who have died value more than anything else are the abstract qualities of compassion, kindness and support.

The same as for all bereaved people.

We can agree that these are not qualities most articulately or effectively expressed by knocking a bit off a bill. Yes?

But what some (not all) parents of children who have died also value is ‘concrete’ help with paying the bill.

As do lots of other bereaved people.

In the matter of children’s funerals there are almost certainly lots of people unconnected with the funerals business who would like to help.

The new Child Funeral Charity enables them to do this. Undertakers and celebrants can give them a chance to chip in by publicising it and sharing the load.

Anne Barber, trustee of the CFC, writes:

The charity will be giving financial help to families who cannot afford to pay for their child or baby’s funeral, referred to us by professionals who work with them, (probably including most of the readers of this blog!). The payments will start from October 1st. Not only payments, but access to suppliers who are prepared to help by giving their products and services at cost or free. We are working hard to fundraise and are optimistic that the families who we can help will be the ones who really do need the help.

We know that the Social Fund is meant to help those on benefits to pay for funerals but as yet they have declined to tell us how many funerals for those under 16 they actually pay anything towards. Not many, we suspect, we will persevere until we get some statistics. But let’s not re-open the Social Fund debate.

The families we believe we will help the most are those who might be in work but are young and on low incomes, some even teenagers themselves, with absolutely no savings or hope of paying for a funeral. Often family, especially grandparents step in, but often they can’t.

The costs they might have to pay, as so rightly already pointed out here, vary enormously and they won’t know that if they went to a different funeral director or a different crematorium it could be less. Some funeral directors we have spoken to do far more than give their professional services, they actually pay ALL the fees for the family, so families do not spend one penny.

Overall we have been overwhelmed by the support that is out there and that we have been encountered already. Health professionals have contacted us keen to use the service and we have had calls from those rejected by the Social Fund as they aren’t on the ‘right type’ of benefits.

Our challenge is to make sure that we help in cases of real need. We will do our very best.

Movie night at the cemetery

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Hollywood Forever
Hollywood Forever cemetery

Guest post by Celebrant Wendy Coulton of Dragonfly Funerals

Tinseltown is not immune to the universal challenges cemeteries face generating a sustainable income to maintain the grounds and run its services.

It was reassuring to learn as a former director of a charitable trust which manages Ford Park Cemetery in Plymouth that the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles has also been saved from the brink of financial collapse and closure.  And the new owners have come up with innovative ways to get people through the gates to appreciate the cemetery as a heritage asset for all generations.

They have movie nights within the 60-acre grounds and kiosks with video tributes to people interred there.

I firmly believe that cemeteries must find such ways to make a connection with the living – to be relevant and resonate with people for different reasons – whether it is for the peace and green open space to reflect, the architecture and memorials or the abundant human interest stories. Cemeteries can capture the history, culture and individuality of a locality and its community just as well as any museum.

If you have a non-morbid love of cemeteries there is a name for us – Taphophiles.

Writing Articles after a Funeral

Monday, 1 September 2014

sitting on lorry

Ernest Cackett


Posted by David Hall

Unlike other Carriage Masters, Vintage Lorry Funerals David Hall’s involvement with a Family doesn’t end at the Crematorium, as he is often involved in writing articles about the Deceased and submitting them to Editors of Trade Magazines.

David is known to a number of Editors and he can write articles in a manner and style specific to each publication and normally these articles are prominently featured. No charge is made for this element of his service because David knows this is a win, win, win situation. Families are delighted to see their Loved One’s memory honoured in such a prestigious magazine, the Editor is pleased as extra copies of the magazine fly off the shelves from W. H. Smiths in the area around the Funeral Directors location and it does Vintage Lorry Funerals no harm in having its contact details at the bottom of the article.

David Hall’s drive to market the business was precipitated not by an approach from a Marketing Company but by a grieving lady from his first funeral in London. After a very large funeral in Croydon Crematorium a lady walked out of the crowd and made a bee-line for David who was rolling up the ratchet straps. This person was not a member of the Family but a grieving lady who had lost her own Father only 3 weeks previously. She explained, ‘My Dad would have loved to have had his final journey on your lorry. Why didn’t I know about your lorry? Why didn’t my Funeral Director tell me about your lorry?’ David was shell-shocked by the vitriolic nature of the approach. The lady then stepped closer and between each word she spoke she poked David in the ribs with her forefinger saying, ‘You need to get out there. You need to get a picture in every Funeral Directors window. Your lorry won’t sell itself!’ Twelve years on David can still feel the bruises in his ribs.

When David was booked for a funeral of a 95 year old, former British Road Services Driver, the Family took up David’s offer to write an article suitable for a Transport Magazine. David felt that Ernest Cackett was unique having a lifespan of 95 years as most men who worked alongside Ernest never reached retirement age. The high mortality rate of Lorry Drivers from the 1950s was caused by poor diets, irregular meals, early starts, late finishes, and working an average week and a half in each week, compared with other types of employment. Ernest put his long life down to not drinking or smoking and keeping fit.


At Wilford Hill Crematorium David was shown some black & white photographs and a number of Family members recounted amazing stories from Ernest’s days on the road. The best one being when Ernest was driving a Leyland Octopus Eight-wheeler, and trailer, accompanied by a Trailer Boy who operated the trailer brakes. When they parked up for the night in the middle of nowhere in the winter of 1949 Ernest told the boy that he could sleep inside the cab and Ernest would sleep under the tarpaulins on the sheet rack, on top of the cab. Early in the morning the boy woke up shivering and rubbed a hole in the condensation on the windscreen to see that 5 inches of snow had fallen overnight. The boy tried to wake Ernest by calling his name a number of times and with a lack of response he was fearful that Ernest had passed away during the night. However, the sheets and the snow on top were flung back, Ernest stood up, stretched and said, ‘Come on lad, we have to get rolling.’

David, with help from Denise Cackett, Ernest’s Daughter-in-Law, wrote an article for Vintage Roadscene, a Kelsey publication that features obituaries in the ‘Scene & Heard’ section near the rear of the magazine. The text was accompanied by two pictures, a 1947 photograph of Ernest in front of his lorry and one from the funeral with Ernest’s coffin on the 1950 Leyland Beaver, taking up over three quarters of a page.

Ernest’s Family said that he used to receive a Retirement Magazine from his former employer, in which obituaries were featured on the back page, however, no one knew the name of the magazine as Ernest’s supply was lost when he went into a Care Home. So David was given the challenge of finding out the name of the magazine and the contact details of the Editor. David is part of Commercial Transport in Preservation (CTP) an organisation of over 400 members throughout Britain who restore vintage vehicles. A regular monthly meeting takes place in Salisbury and there are a number of Road Runs during the year, however, from David’s perspective the most important feature are the contacts he has built up over the years.

Robin Masters operates a Bristol Eight-wheeler in BRS colours in road runs and he helped to provide David with information on the magazine, Making Connections, and the email address of the Editor. In addition on hearing Ernest’s activities sleeping under the stars and the sheets, Robin offered David editorial space in the Handout he was preparing as part of his BRS Liveried Vehicle Road Run. Ernest Cackett’s family was invited to the Road Run and shown vehicles similar to the ones Ernest used to drive. Denise Cacket reported back to David Hall that she and the rest of Ernest’s family had been treated like celebrities once they had introduced themselves to Robin Masters.

Three months after Ernest’s funeral Making Connections prominently featured Ernest’s article with it taking up over half of their Obituary Page, with 7 other obituary articles confined to the other half.

The ability to write articles is another way David can exceed a Family’s expectation of his services and this can lead to very positive referrals.

ED’S NOTE: David writes for us at the beginning of every month, his copy always arriving promptly on the 1st. His delightful reminiscences are a highlight for many readers. Please do not hold back in showing your appreciation. 



Wonderful to listen to

Friday, 29 August 2014



It all began in South Africa. I bet you didn’t know that.

Top Gear tweeted during it. So did Diane Abbot and British Gas.

In Asda, Bournemouth, they played Sweet Soul Music during it.

In Ayrshire they once shockingly forgot to do it at all.

It was transplanted to the UK following a proclamation by King George V:

“All locomotion should cease, so that, in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead.”

Yes, you’ve got it: the two minutes’ silence held every year on 11/11 at 11 o’clock. Incredibly effective it was, too, back then. Everyone marvelled at the sudden bottomless silence of Britain’s cities, something never heard before.

Silence is a stiff-upper-lip, emotionally uptight style of commemoration peculiarly typical of its era. So, is silent commemoration of the dead looking a bit dated now that we have become so much more emotionally demonstrative?

Far from it. It not only lives on, it’s spread to mark sad occasions in all sorts of communities.

Beekeepers do it:

‘Stowmarket Group held its AGM on 24th February; 32 members enjoyed a ploughman’s lunch prior to the meeting. Tony Payne (Chair) opened the meeting with a minute’s silence as a tribute to Elaine Buffery who died last year.’

Chimneysweeps do it:

‘It was a great shock to us to learn of the untimely death in September, of a lovely gentleman Allan Lyon from Malton, who never missed our meetings, he had been sweeping 10 years and retired in May. It was rather a sad start to the afternoon having to inform everyone there, most having had long chats with him in previous years. We observed a minutes silence and drank a toast in his memory.’

Pretty much everyone does it.

Newcastle United began their first game of the season with a minute’s silence to mourn the deaths of two fans on MH17. In fact, so many football matches begin with a period of silence to mark the passing of a former player that academics have warned us of the diminishing impact that will result from ‘silence inflation’.

It’s a clever idea but what do academics know? Silent commemoration is here to stay. It exerts huge and compelling bonding power over communities of people. Silence is a very eloquent way of saying ‘You’re one of us, we honour you, we miss you.’

They do it differently in Italy, Italians being more exuberant. There, they start with silence then begin to clap around halfway through, building to a crescendo.

The Liverpool-Juventus game in 2005 was the first time the teams had met since the infamous game of 1985 when 39 Juventus supporters were killed in riots. This time, both sets of fans were on their best behaviour. A minute’s silence was held for Pope John Paul II, who had recently died. The Liverpool fans, unaware of the Italian way of commemoration, were shocked when the opposition fans began to clap. So angry were they at their desecration of the silence that they booed them when they stopped. Tricky moment.

In spite of that, the Italian way of silence-and-applause has caught on at football grounds all over the UK. Fans have clapped Bobby Robson, Nelson Mandela, the victims of Hillsborough.

The minute’s applause has taken its place as the alternative to silence, although as one fan has pointed out, ‘What we will lose is the life-goes-on eruption of the crowd once the referee has signalled the end of the silence. Everybody loves that.’


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