‘Eager yet kindly’ flames

Charles 10 Comments

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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  1. Charles

    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.

  2. Charles

    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.

  3. Charles

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

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