The firm comprises two businesses, C. Waterhouse & Sons and also Heathfield Funeral Service. Established by Charlie Waterhouse in 1926, the family business is still based in the pretty cottages in Burwash where he lived and worked 90 years ago, and his daughter Dorothy remains fully involved with the day to day running of the company, which is now in the hands of her son Tim.
Dorothy, affectionately know as ‘Mother’ by everyone at C. Waterhouse, is a former nurse who began helping her father with the undertaking business in her early 20’s after the death of her mother. Some fifty years on, Dorothy’s dedication to families and her many decades of deep expertise in all aspects of funerals are part of the fabric of the business, and her values are embedded in the way that the company works. Her touch is everywhere, from the choice of wallpaper to the spotlessly clean and tidy premises, and it is evident that the standards have been set here at the highest possible level. With her (now retired) husband, Dorothy has been a shaker and mover in the funeral industry for years and her mission has always been to provide care at a level where there seems to be no divide between her team and your family.
Dorothy’s son Tim echoes the family ethos and is immensely proud of the close-knit relationship the business has with the community it belongs to. Tim worked for an insurance company before joining the company in 1994, bringing with him his experience from a world outside of funerals. A staunch Rotarian and a Past President of Heathfield and Waldron Rotary Club, Tim is also a keen golfer, although it is hard to see how he has time to enjoy a life outside work as he is 100% focused on ensuring that every single family receives the best possible experience. He has his eye on everything, and doesn’t miss a single detail, ensuring that everything is checked and checked again and that every funeral is as perfect as it can possibly be.
There are no plans for big expansion at C. Waterhouse; Tim is happy to maintain the high level of service that the company offers from its two branches rather than opening more offices and sacrificing their standards. He would rather the company remain personal and local, with a small hand picked team working in and for their community. This is not to say that the business is standing still or complacent – it is quite the opposite. C. Waterhouse is leading the way for small independent funeral directors in embracing the changes in society that are affecting us all, and they are looking ahead to a future where the local loyalty of clientele will inevitably be influenced by the internet and unparalleled access to information for bereaved families, and changing expectations from clients. The company has seen the changes ahead, and is responding to them now in preparation for the shift in consumer behavior they believe to be coming.
Some things won’t ever change here; the warmth and comfort that the staff meet you with, so that the process of creating the funeral can be rich and sustaining, the reverence with which the dead are cared for, the attention to detail and the spotless, immaculate surroundings will all be maintained as long as a Waterhouse family member is involved, but there have been recent subtle shifts in some of the supplementary things – new, smart brochures, for instance, and a planned improved website.
The family team (which includes Tim’s wife Jacky who works within the company’s stonemasonry and memorials business) is excellently complemented by a group of devoted staff, several of whom have been with the firm for well over a decade. (Dorothy’s stated view is that if a firm takes good care of its people, that ethos of care will flow into the way they do their jobs.)
Sean Martin joined the company five years ago from a former career in banking and international private client management, and has become an integral part of the business. Sean focuses on community relationships as the main part of his work, which frees Tim to concentrate on the operational side of the business, but like everyone else at C. Waterhouse, he does everything that needs doing. Sean also has a keen eye for detail, and has introduced the excellent new client folders which are packed full of useful information laid out in a logical and easy to read way. He has introduced the new C. Waterhouse Direct Cremation option, which uniquely offers families the opportunity to hold a small ceremony in the chapel of rest beforehand. It is Sean who carries out home visits for families, and he also conducts funerals and answers the phone out of hours.
Other staff you may encounter are David Hyland, who has four decades of experience and who conducts funerals as well as looking after the stonemasonry department, Karen O’Keeffe who oversees the Burwash office, Wendy Mitchell who runs the Heathfield office, David Rhys-Jones, whose duties seem to cover everything, and Reverend Kevin Mepham, who somehow combines his work at C. Waterhouse with being a vicar of two parishes.
C. Waterhouse people are particularly proud of their premises at Burwash, where Charlie started the business and where most of the team are based. The two listed cottages that the business occupies are delightful – as you step in from the High Street to Mabel’s Cottage, you step into a front parlour, complete with fireplace and armchairs. There are no desks or formal furnishings here; you can feel the years of history and the sense of family life and the fireplace and family photographs add to a sense of familiarity and ease. It’s immediately reassuring and unthreatening, and the staff’s immediate tendency is to put the kettle on and then settle down to listen to you.
The chapel of rest is at the rear of the cottage in a separate building with its own access. Families can spend as much time as they want here with the person who has died, there is a separate little room with armchairs and a supply of tea can be brought from the main building if needed.
A newer branch of the business – trading as Heathfield Funeral Service – is managed by Wendy Mitchell, who has been with C Waterhouse for fourteen years. Despite the Heathfield office being in a newer building, the domestic feel of the Burwash office is echoed in the cosy, comfortable meeting rooms with their unusual wallpaper (chosen by Dorothy). There is the same sense of quality and attention to detail and the same quiet feeling of welcome at both branches.
As is probably apparent, this firm has a strong commitment to cleanliness and order: you’d go a long way to find a more thoroughly valeted car. Brian Curtain, who manages the fleet, likes to keep the garage floors painted, as he says it keeps the dust down. The firm is proud of their fleet of vehicles, which alongside the traditional Mercedes hearse and limousine, includes two four by four Subaru estate cars and a baby Range Rover – from a very practical point of view they’ll be able to make your funeral happen even in the worst weather as the Subarus can be used as a hearse and limousine if need be. They are happy to branch out into alternative modes of transport, such as horse-drawn or motorcycle vehicles or an old-fashioned London bus.
Given C. Waterhouse’s location, many of the funerals they arrange have a traditional feel and a church component. They conduct more burials than the average. Though they have a traditional outlook, this does not limit them: they say that ‘If it feels like the right thing to do, it probably is’.
They pride themselves on the smart presentation of their people and vehicles, and on their excellent attention to detail. Their bearers wear navy pinstriped suits rather than black, something that sets them apart from other companies, and they’ll wear ties in any colour you care to prescribe. They’ll take your choices of music very seriously: they’ll study it closely and time it, aiming to match the rhythm of the proceedings with the rhythm of the music. They’ll want to help you get the seating arrangements right: they’ll send some of their people ahead to the funeral venue to be sure that someone is there to welcome your guests.
The watchwords at C. Waterhouse are kindness, immaculate execution, and engaged care. They are very conscious of transparency, and also of the impact that austerity might have on families, and offer affordable options with great sensitivity. They are also exceptionally good at organising highly complicated, high profile funerals for families, they have the confidence and experience that enables them to take on any size or scale of funeral with equal ability.
They want to take the time to get a sense of the person who has died, so that they can make helpful suggestions for the funeral arrangements and support you to create a rich and appropriate event.
Behind the scenes (which are always open to inspection by anyone who cares to do so), the devotion to the care of the dead is beyond compare. They combine a commitment to beauty with a pragmatic awareness of hygiene, taking care to ‘lay out’ in an atmosphere of calm and quiet, seeing the care of the dead as a sacred trust. They are so keen on this aspect of the care of the dead that they run exceptionally good training sessions about it for local nursing homes and hospitals. The dead are always referred to formally, as Mr. or Mrs Surname.
On the day of the funeral, the C. Waterhouse people see their job as being on top of every practicality, so that you can simply concentrate on being present to what is taking place.
There is a dynamism in this company which blends seamlessly with the quality of service inherited from ‘Grandpa’ and ‘Mother’. C. Waterhouse is a business that is looking to the future and preparing for it, while concentrating with dedication on every funeral that they are engaged to carry out.
We particularly liked their thoughtful approach to offering direct cremation as an alternative of equal merit to a more traditional funeral, with the offer of a little ceremony beforehand in the chapel, and the suggestion that a family might like to follow the coffin in their own car to the crematorium gates on the final journey – little touches that illustrate the humanity and consideration that informs the running of this business.
We also liked the unique ‘knotty oak’ coffins that are only available from C. Waterhouse, and the choice of navy blue pinstripes for their funeral attire – both features appreciated by the local community.
They also have a skilled stone-masonry department that can offer good information on the subject of memorial masonry. Unusually, they offer hand-cut lettering on headstones as an option, and they can give you informed guidance about the various local churchyards’ regulations. A product of their imaginative helpfulness is the little memorials garden that they have installed behind the Burwash office: the display of examples of real headstones in various shapes and materials enables you to make a better choice than might be possible from looking in a catalogue.
This is a place where you can make your funeral arrangements without any sense of having to be on your guard. They aim to do everything possible to put you at your ease and allay your anxieties, offering you the time and space to consider what you want to do.
There’s an absence of cynicism in C Waterhouse’s business practice, with effects that you may not even notice. For example, they make no extra charge for handling the charitable donations that people may make in memory of the person who has died. There is no flaunting of the kindnesses that are woven into their approach, and there’s no upselling of features you don’t want or need. Their way of operating comes from a committed and decades-long engagement in their local communities. They are proud of their presence, wanting to offer the same excellent service to everybody, ‘dukes and dustmen’.
We think they are exceptionally good at what they do.
Any decisions you take on engaging the services of a funeral director should be based on your views and research. You should not rely solely upon the views and opinions offered by us.
Friday 19th February 2016 at 11:02 am
My dear daughter died last december from brain cancer. The staff at Waterhouse were so kind to my son and I at this traumatic time. The funeral service was so lovely – they are a wonderful set of people. I would like to say a big thank you from my son Jim and I
Saturday 6th June 2015 at 2:12 pm
Many thanks to Sean Martin and team for the superb care of my mothers funeral on the 5 of June at Tunbridge-Wells. Waterhouse’s attended my fathers funeral some twenty-six years ago on the advice of Dr Farrow of Hawkhurst and the standards have not fallen. Really special thanks to the Rev Kevin Mepham who made a sad day bearable, he is the only one of a few priests Iv’e known that delivers a speech which is heart felt and sincere and more to the point won’t cause the mourners to nod off, great man.
Regards, Peter and family.
Tuesday 8th December 2015 at 1:47 pm
I have just been catching up on a large amount of tasks that have had to wait in recent months, due to so many families requiring our attention and who have needed our help. One of those tasks was to review our entry on “The Good Funeral Guide” website and I was so thrilled to read your very kind comments following Mum’s funeral in June. We try very hard indeed to ensure every family has felt well looked after and is given nothing to worry about at such a difficult time.
But it makes our day when someone takes the trouble to write and let us know they are happy with everything!
Thank you for taking the time and every good wish from all of us here at C. Waterhouse & Sons.
Thursday 12th June 2014 at 2:51 pm
All of the staff showed that they Mede you feel that you were the most important person at the time, totally professional from the beginning to the end, we could not find any fault at all, and would recommend Waterhouse & son to anyone.
They did not just give a hundred percent but a hundred and fifty percent, above and beyond, and made all of us feel at ease, on behalf of the Dobbin family a very big thank you for everything you had done.