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Clarkson's Independent Funeral Directors

Sophie May and Carol Spalding.jpg
7, Windsor Place, Upper Bristol Road, Bath BA1 3DF
Martha’s House, Broadway, Frome, Somerset BA11 3HA
489b, Bath Road, Saltford, Bristol BS31 3BA
7 Windsor Place Bath England BA1 3DF GB

Carol Spalding owns and runs the business jointly with her daughter Sophie May, and they have attracted the very best staff to work alongside them looking after families in Bath, Frome and Saltford.

When you meet them, it’s clear to see why Clarkson’s have such an excellent reputation – Carol’s warm personality, her friendly, caring manner and her devotion to her work is complemented by Sophie’s efficient organizational skills and attention to detail, and they share the same dedication and ethos that Carol started with when she bought the business in 2004 – ‘to help people say goodbye to people in the most personal and caring way that we can.’

Carol first came into the world of funerals when Sophie was just eleven years old, and was diagnosed with diabetes. “I needed to get a job to stop me fussing over her,” says Carol, “I knew I’d be too protective if I was just sitting at home worrying about her and I saw a vacancy advertised in the window of the local funeral director. I started the following week.” The company was part of a large corporate chain, and soon after starting work there, Carol was headhunted by local independent funeral directors. A year later, she bought the business from the owners, and since 2004 she has been at the heart of Clarkson’s (formerly Jolly’s of Bath).

Sophie grew up helping Carol, she has been involved with the business since the age of thirteen, and with the additional assistance of Ian Marsh, Carol’s husband, the company is a true family firm, exactly what Carol always wanted it to be.

“Mum’s always seen it as her ‘third baby’,” says Sophie, “she cares so much about all of our clients, we all do. As one of our staff says, ‘it’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle choice’.” For years, this lifestyle choice meant that Carol did everything herself, she has only recently stopped being on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, but she continues to take non-religious ceremonies for families if they want her to – and many do. It’s easy to see why, there’s nothing stuffy or pompous about Carol, she’s warm, friendly and kind, and completely normal, with a knack of putting you at ease the minute you meet her. It’s like being with friend you’ve known for years, she has a comfortable, reassuring presence and a genuinely caring nature that is exactly what you need when you’re plunged into the unfamiliar world of needing to arrange a funeral.

Clarkson’s are well known for their personal service and they are proud of their independent status and the ability this gives them to look after every family exactly as they need to be. Their standards are exceptionally high – you could quite literally eat your food from the floor of the mortuary in Frome, in particular, and all of the premises are spick and span, even during the renovations taking place in Bath when we visited – this care about the detail runs throughout everything that the company does, and underpins the ethos of the business. There’s a thoughtfulness here which is tangible, backed up by a wholly professional attitude to getting everything right for you.

Carol’s success in Bath encouraged her and Sophie to expand the business to surrounding areas, and in 2012 they opened a second branch in Frome, followed by a third branch in Saltford in 2014.

The three branches are all quite different – the premises at Bath are set in a terrace building, about a mile from the centre of town and just a mile from the RUH Hospital. Recently refurbished, it has two comfortable arrangement rooms with a disabled access loo. The private chapel of rest is along the hallway, with the mortuary and preparation room at the back of the long narrow building. The big office is upstairs, along with the kitchen and other staff facilities. Carol and Sophie are based here, along with Martyn Hurst, Anne Booker and Jo Blackstone who all arrange and conduct funerals. The funeral vehicles are parked in the driveway at the rear, while clients can park on the forecourt at the front of the building.

Frome is looked after by Wayne Kelly, locally born funeral director and manager, assisted by Karen Lambert-Gorwyn who arranges funerals, and Len Taylor who assists and looks after logistics. The branch at Frome was formerly a huge warehouse that has been beautifully converted into a really lovely, modern funeral home, with a spacious reception area and a large arranging room and chapel of rest, with a fully accessible client loo. Beyond the public space, the impeccable mortuary and preparation area lead on to a large garage, where the funeral vehicles are carefully covered with specially made car covers when not in use, while upstairs there is a huge space where coffins are stored and the staff have a dressing room. Parking is available in the adjacent car park without charge for an hour, or there is off street parking nearby.

(Frome telephone no: 01373 463888)

The Saltford branch is looked after by Paul Lawrance, formerly a teacher and then crematorium superintendent who joined Clarkson’s in 2017. The branch is a converted business property on the main high street, with a reception area opening onto a large comfortable arranging room. The chapel of rest is on the other side of the reception area, while the mortuary and preparation areas are behind that, with a garage where a limousine is stored. Parking is available outside.

(Saltford telephone no: 01225 873535 )

While each of the branches has a different feel to them, they all have beautifully decorated windows, a particular feature of Clarkson’s. When we visited, we noticed passers by stopping to admire the displays to commemorate Remembrance Day, while plans were underway for the Christmas windows. Inside the branches there were lovely displays of flowers which are changed regularly by the local florists that Clarkson’s work closely with. The company only recommends other businesses that they have worked with and trust completely, and don’t add on any mark up or take commission from them. This principle also applies to any bespoke coffins that families might choose, for example an eco-coffin or a specially ordered ‘Last Supper’ style – clients pay only what the company is charged for them.

This fairness and transparency over costs is really important to Carol and Sophie and their team, prices are on their website and clearly itemised so you can see what each element costs, and they will happily provide a personal quote for any family who might be in a difficult situation financially, or who request no ceremony and just a cremation. Payment plans are offered so that families can pay over twelve months for the funeral if they need to, and they don’t ask for a deposit prior to the funeral unless a family insists. For baby funerals and those of children under the age of 18 the services of Clarkson’s are free, and all of the team offer their time free of charge to help organise these particularly challenging funerals. They do them exceptionally well, the humanity and kindness that typifies this business is especially relevant when parents have lost a child, and Carol instinctively knows how to help, in the tiniest yet most important of ways. “I never take a baby from the parents, I wait until they’re ready to hand their child to me,” she says, “then when they give me their child, I’ll hold it in my arms while someone else drives us. That’s how I’d want it to be if it were my child, so that’s what I do.”

Despite the deep level of detail and service that you receive from Clarkson’s, their prices are really reasonable. Sophie always explains to families asking for just a small element of assistance with funeral arrangements that there are other, cheaper companies in town and she’ll supply contact details for these, but she also explains that Clarkson’s are continually investing in their staff and their services to give families the best possible experience. Only once has a family decided to go elsewhere after this conversation.

Specific Gravity

Without doubt it is the highly personal service and the quality of the care that each family receives. Everyone that Clarkson’s looks after is referred to by name, and the staff in each branch all know all about each funeral so that they can pick up any enquiries at any point. While you will have one person as your main contact throughout, it is reassuring that everyone in the branch knows all about the details of your arrangements, instilling a confidence that every aspect is being looked after.

What's Important?

Looking after you at the most difficult time. Caring properly for the person who has died is absolutely an important aspect of Clarkson’s work, but caring for the families and friends who have been bereaved is paramount for Carol and her team. All the staff are trained in house in every aspect of the funeral director role, including looking after the people in their care, bathing and washing their hair etc. They will do everything they can possibly do to make the experience bearable for you and to ensure that everything you ask from them is fulfilled – for instance, they’ll always call to let you know when they have collected your relative and brought them into their care, they always shoulder the coffin if at all possible, unlike some other companies – this matters a lot to some families. Other examples are that Sophie can design and create orders of service for you, so you can sit down with her and work together to make sure every detail is right, and with the addition of a new printer in the Bath office they can be printed in house, running off last minute additional copies if needed, and Paul as well as Carol can lead the ceremony for you if you want.

What's Different?

Clarkson’s have a superb reputation in Bath and the areas around and it’s well deserved, they truly are a quality undertaker with the best traditional family values. They are recognisable out and about with their charcoal grey vehicles, and on funerals the Clarkson’s staff are all impeccably turned out in tailor made coats and their trademark purple waistcoats, ties or neckerchiefs. If you want a less formal approach then just ask them, but the Clarkson style is generally very well commented on and admired.

Services
  • Your first call will be answered by one of the funeral directors or Sophie at the Bath office (Carol, Anne, Martyn or Jo), at Frome it will by Wayne, Karen or Len, and at Saltford it will be Paul. After hours one of the funeral directors will be on call.
  • Home visits – yes, they will do whatever suits you, they’ll come to you if you want or meet you in the branch most convenient to you.
  • Same sex person to wash and dress? Yes, just ask. Every branch has a preparation room and portable hair washing basin and everyone they look after is prepared with the same care. They’ll happily swap their staff round to ensure that you have either a man or a woman to look after your relative, and, if you’d prefer, to make the funeral arrangements with you.
  • Embalming? They don’t embalm as standard, often feeling that it is a process and cost that is unnecessary, but they can offer it and will explain it to every family so they can make their own decision. Any questions you have about the process will be answered.
  • Ethnic specialism? Clarkson’s care for people from every ethnicity, and have experience of all religious ceremonies. Their mortuary facilities are available for people from any cultures or religions who require ritual washing to be performed.
  • Home arranged funerals – absolutely, if you need support to look after someone at home then contact them for advice and support.
  • Local celebrants – they’ll talk through the choices with you – more often than not families in Bath want Carol to lead the ceremony for them, but they have other great celebrants they can suggest if not.
  • Vehicles – Clarkson’s have two sets of vehicles both charcoal grey – the Jaguar hearse and limousine is based in Frome, while a Mercedes hearse and limousine are based in Bath. A matching Mercedes ambulance and a Galaxy complete the fleet, and Carol and Sophie’s cars have also been used by families where the more formal vehicles are not wanted.
  • Website – Nice, informative website with lots of information set out in a straightforward way. On the home page, there’s a lovely photo of Carol and Sophie which captures their personalities perfectly.
  • Client support – Completely supportive throughout the period leading up to the funeral, and then they’ll contact you afterwards by whichever method you prefer. They let you know they’re there for you if you need them, and most people will come in for a chat if they need to.
  • Money matters – Clarkson’s have had their prices online for years, long before any other companies locally were so open. They offer several different packages, all clearly explained and costed, and outline the different components should you want a bespoke option or a direct cremation.
  • Parking – Easy parking at all three branches – see details above.
Remarks

This is a lovely company that is exceptionally well run with a light touch by Carol and Sophie. The ethos and the values that mother and daughter share are shared by everyone who works with them, and there is a real family feeling to the whole company, a natural, easy camaraderie that all the staff share, together with a pride in being part of such a well-respected, professional business.

Being independently owned, Clarkson’s is a responsive and flexible company, the staff are encouraged to think for themselves and to do their absolute best for each family they serve, and this means that you can expect to be looked after throughout your dealings with them. If need be they will ask other independent funeral directors to help by providing vehicles or staff so that you can have your ceremony on a specific date – your needs are always the most important thing, not their diary or commitments.

Carol is a popular local figure, well known in the area, and often gets asked to speak at Rotary events or other local gatherings, as does Wayne in Frome. The company’s particular skill at caring for families where a child has died means that they often get asked to offer guidance on this difficult topic and to help other professionals understand more about child bereavement.

If you are looking for kind, capable people to help you with a funeral, we can thoroughly recommend Clarkson’s to you – they are among the nicest funeral directors we’ve met.

Sophie May and Carol Spalding.jpg 5 months ago
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