Iain Steel and his father Richard are the owners of the company and are actively involved with funerals (after 55 years with the family firm, Richard’s involvement is less hands on these days, although he will always be available to conduct a funeral for a family who asks specifically for him).
Four other qualified funeral directors, John Barton-Rumbold, Chelsea Duke, Russ Taw and David Westbrook also arrange and conduct funerals, including Sarah Hayward, the newest recruit who will sit her exams in the next year or so. Iain insists his funeral directors achieve their Diploma, he thinks it is essential to ensure that families are looked after by people who have been properly trained. Normally, whoever you first speak to will be the person who looks after you throughout your involvement with Steels – this principle of continuity is something Iain considers fundamental.
Born into a family of funeral directors, Iain knew from the age of five that he wanted to be a funeral director like his grandfather and his father – well, he has always told everyone that he was five but his mother recently corrected him and said he was just three years old when he first announced his intention. Nothing made him change his mind, and after going to work for another company in his late teens and gaining his Diploma, he returned to join the family business aged 20, becoming the fourth generation to be involved.
The Steel family are well known in Winchester – they have been carrying out funerals for the people of the town since 1860, and Iain’s grandfather, Stanley was twice elected Mayor of Winchester, serving on the City Council for 25 years. It was Stanley who steered the former builders and undertakers of his uncle’s day in the direction of specialising in funeral directing, and he was joined in 1962 by his son Richard.
Over the decades Richard has held several prestigious roles in the community, chairing the Trustees of St. Johns Winchester Charity and the Winchester Working Mens Housing Society. Formerly President of St. John Ambulance and the Winchester Operatic Society, he is also a Patron of the Theatre Royal.
Iain shares his father’s love of singing and acting and has appeared in several local societies. Former Vice Chair of the Board of the Theatre Royal, he is Chair of Winchester Theatre Trust and President of St. John Ambulance, he has also been actively involved in the National Association of Funeral Directors for many years, acting as an Examiner for almost two decades, and is currently European Group Secretary for Selected Independent Funeral Homes.
This solid involvement in the community that they serve is instinctive to the Steels, it’s as much a part of their lives as their work. In fact, being part of the community and serving members of the community when they have been bereaved is one and the same thing to Iain. He is the epitome of someone who is what he does, the business of being a funeral director is in his DNA.
Personable and friendly with an instantly reassuring manner, Iain’s love for his role is apparent. He is at his happiest working with families, helping them achieve exactly the funeral that they want. His years of experience enable him to make suggestions and offer advice so that every funeral carried out is bespoke, shaped exactly as the family want. Whether you want the simplest or most elaborate ceremony and whatever budget you are working to, Iain will make sure you receive the same personal quality service, whether from him or from one of his colleagues.
Former Director Mark Allery retired in May 2017 having brought with him a dedication to customer service, and a fresh pair of eyes. The question ‘Why do we do that?’ is an immensely valuable one, and the answer “Because we always have’ isn’t acceptable; undoubtedly, Mark’s questioning, together with Iain’s determination to be the best they possibly can be, has helped to make this long-established company as modern and up to date as any we’ve come across.
The premises at Alderman House, named in memory of Stanley Steel, are the second Steel presence in the town. The original premises at Chesil House are home to Steel’s beautiful Garden of Remembrance. The main business has been based at Alderman House since 2004, and was purpose designed, mostly by drawing on the floor to indicate where walls needed to go (originally it had been a car showroom). A portrait of Stanley in his mayoral finery looks over the large reception area, and there are two spacious private arranging rooms with plush sofas and coffee tables. The Diploma certificates gained by the staff are proudly displayed on the wall, and behind the curved reception desk, a door opens on to the general office, where Iain, Mark and all the funeral directors and support staff work in the same space. ‘It’s important that we can all hear what we are all doing,” says Iain, “Everyone knows what is going on all of the time.”
The chapel of rest is to the left of the reception area. Designed with a lounge waiting area so that families visiting a relative have some privacy, the room is divided by a folding wall that enables it to be adapted according to requirements. Behind the chapel of rest is a large chilled mortuary area. There are no fridges here, the entire room is kept cool. People who have died are placed on trays until their coffin is ready, then they will be placed in the coffin until the day of the funeral.
Beautifully decorated and furnished throughout, this family business clearly believes in investing in quality and comfort for their clients and has spent a deal of money on making sure their premises are just right. This is a classy establishment that has been thoughtfully planned and laid out, with every detail carefully considered.
Behind Alderman House, and over a road, a second building houses the workshop and garages. This is where coffins are delivered and stored, and fitted and lined to order. They are then placed in a car and driven 20 yards or so to deliver them to the main building. Iain will not allow the coffins to be transported any other way.
Chesil House has a similar feeling of quality to Alderman House, but is undergoing a huge refurbishment, something that is no mean feat in a listed building. The plans are to provide a 100-seat chapel, with state of the art audio-visual capabilities, and reception / kitchen facilities which will provide families with the choice of holding a complete ceremony and a reception for their guests in the heart of Winchester, providing a continuity of care for those who choose it. The former Service Chapel only had a capacity for around 50 people to attend a ceremony at Chesil House.
The new facilities will provide complete flexibility, for example a family will be able to hold a funeral ceremony on a day and at a time to suit them rather than needing to fit in with a booking at the crematorium, with the coffin going on for a private committal at a later point. The new space will also provide families with additional time without the pressure of being at a busy crematorium. Downstairs, a smaller new chapel with views over the Garden of Remembrance will provide a more intimate space for gatherings where 20 or so guests are expected.
All being well, the new facilities will be ready in August 2018.
Outside Chesil House, and away from the busy hustle of the town, the pretty gardens offer a place of sanctuary and peace where cremated remains can be buried in a lovingly tended memorial garden close to a running stream. As an alternative to a churchyard or cemetery, the Garden of Remembrance with its hand drawn Book of Remembrance is a tranquil place in the heart of the town, and many families have chosen it as the final resting place for a loved one. A real ‘hidden gem’.
Jenny, a former Verger from the Cathedral, provides a familiar friendly face at Chesil House to greet returning visitors who come to spend time in the peaceful surroundings, and every year an annual Service of Remembrance is held in the garden where anyone is welcome to attend.
Exceptional quality of personal service. Steels have a high reputation locally and it is clearly well deserved. Their standards are impeccable. Their focus is on delivering the very best, every time, for every family, and the imbued values inherited from the past have been married with a keen eye for any adjustments that can be made to improve their service to you.
One would expect this level of quality to come at a price, but the costs here are fair and reasonable.
Your experience. Little details make all the difference. When Steels staff come to collect someone who has died, they are dressed in smart blue lounge suits rather than undertaker garb of black jacket and striped trousers. They look like human beings rather than strange visitors in unnatural garb. And they use a smart silver MVP, not a van to take the person back to their premises.
Every coffin is lined in such a way that the edges are covered with padded fabric – when visiting a relative in the chapel of rest, you instinctively approach the coffin and put your hand on it – here you will feel soft, comfy material rather than a wooden coffin edge.
They produce their own in house orders of service for you, designed and laid out individually.
And they don’t ask you to pay money in advance. As Iain says, “We’ve been in business for over 150 years and we work on trust. People understand that and respect it.”
The combination of tradition and modernity. The values that have served families of Winchester and the surrounding areas for generations are still upheld, the notion of service and unobtrusive support underpin this business, but are combined with a determination to stay abreast of changes in the way we want our funerals to be.
If you want a direct cremation that’s fine, Steels will do that for you and you can be sure they will do it perfectly, always providing a hearse and bearers. Behind the scenes, they are as professional as when all eyes are on them at a funeral ceremony. There are no corners cut here, ever.
There is also a strong sense of community and responsibility. Local nursing homes regularly send their staff to Steels to participate in their ‘Bereavement – Continuing the Care’ training, where carers learn what happens to a person after they leave their care.
Your first call will be answered after hours by Iain, John, David, Bob, Chelsea or Russ. During the day it may be one of the long serving administrative staff, but they will pass you to a funeral director.
Steels is a rare thing in the funeral world, a business that is so well established and highly thought of locally that other funeral directors don’t bother attempting to open a branch in competition with them.
Having spent a day with them, we can see why. Their standards are extremely high, they have invested heavily in continually improving the service they offer, and they are extraordinarily nice people. The people of Winchester are fortunate to have Steels at their service.
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.