Daily Archives: May 19, 2013

An Undertaking

Woman’s hour on BBC Radio 4, had an interesting item the other morning, about Undertakers. It set me thinking and researching. Ok, so a week ago I felt like death, this week I was in need of distraction from the creaks, groans and pain emanating from my body.

When you think of an undertaker, what image springs to mind? A sombre man dressed from top to toe in black? Perhaps attired in a top hat, tailcoat, or long dark Overcoat and leather gloves all above shoes polished as if for a military parade.

If we take a look back in time to the late 19th century, most deaths (apart from casualties at war) occurred  in the home setting. The bodies stayed at home. Were laid out at home. Laid out by he women of the family or by a few chosen ones in the local community, sturdy stalwarts who were regularly called upon at times of hatching or dispatching.

In the 1930s public mortuaries & chapels of rest began to appear, but after the introduction of the National Health Service, ‘death’ was moved away from the domestic setting and was placed in the hands of funeral directors. These funeral directors were all men.


Bereaved families are vulnerable and often easily encouraged to show respect for the deceased with a good coffin, shiny hearse and multiple mourning coaches.

When arranging a basic burial, you might well be talking £3,000.00. Get more than one quote to compare costs.

The fee for the purchase of a plot depends on which cemetery is chosen, and where that cemetery is located. In my local graveyard, run by the local Council, the purchase of a grave plot for a resident of the borough is £300.00, it increases to £900.00 for a non resident. The 1st Opening £280.00, for a second and subsequent opening the cost would be £170.00. If you live in a large city, the costs may well be much higher.

On top of that – pun intended, Headstone Pricing can be anything from £900.00 to £2,650.00. These prices include installation of headstone, engraving of up to two names and sentiment but not cemetery fees of £100.00.

Then there will be costs to consider for a newspaper notice, flowers, and minister’s fee, the cost of a coffin, and the fees that are paid directly to the undertaker for the use of their services to arrange and conduct the funeral, tips for the organist and the verger at a church for making the preparations (dusting the front pews!). If you add in venue hire and catering costs, you might well be talking of £4,600 and odd pounds.

I told you it was BIG BUSINESS!

A cremation would be somewhere in the region of £2,500/£3,000  – this dying is not cheap! In addition to the fee of approx £600/£700 paid directly to the crematorium for (striking the match) carrying out the cremation, organists and medical referee’s fee and the use of their chapel for your allocated time, there will also be a fee to be paid to each of the doctors who complete the cremation certificates. I am always amused that it takes only one doctor to declare the ‘body’ dead for a funeral, yet two doctors must sign separate forms for a cremation. Currently in the UK this fee is set at £78.50 per doctor, giving a total fee payable of £157.00. This fee is set by the British Medical Association, and is reviewed and revised annually.

Next we need to think of the B O X.

Coffins are a whole different ballgame. Coffins are graded according to (the colour, the shine) the wood finish, and the brass or silver trimmings.

My exhaustive research of visiting one undertakers website, informed me that the range varied from a traditional veneered oak coffin with raised lid and polished teak finish @ £305.00 to a solid Paulownia wood³ casket polished in teak finish with luxury padded interior @ £2470.00. An 18 gauge steel casket, platinum finish with ebony shading and luxury padded interior was £POA – price on application, in other words, if you have to ask, you cannot afford it! They catered for the ‘Greenites’ too with a willow coffin manufactured from sustainable sources and available in traditional or oval shape. With water resistant lining, chipboard base and matching wooden frame it would only knock you back £595.00.

Are you worn out and ready to flop yet?

Never fear, the wind of change is beginning to whirl.  Women are increasingly taking on roles within the funeral industry and are reclaiming jobs viewed in recent times as male. It is no longer the preserve of gentlemen. We now have women undertakers, and that programme I mentioned way up there at the top of the post, had three wonderful ladies of the trade on the show:- Poppy Mardall, an undertaker, Liz Rothschild, a funeral celebrant, and Tara Bailey, a former undertaker who’s done a PhD at the Centre for Death & Society at the University of Bath.

I certainly learned a few things….

It was like an old vault opening and letting in the daylight. You do not need to have the full formal funeral with hearse, mourning cars and church or funeral home service.

When someone dies there are three or four things you MUST DO in the first few days:

  • Check if the deceased is on the organ donor list and talk to the GP or hospital doctor ASAP. The sooner you do so, the more helpful it can be. Let your loved one live on in another person. Perhaps pass on the gift of life!
  • Get a medical certificate – it states the date, time and cause of death and must be signed by the doctor who declared the person’s death. You’ll get this from a doctor (GP or at a hospital) and you need one to register the death.
  • Register the death within 5 days of the death – you’ll then get the documents you need for the funeral. In the UK, unlike ROI, the death must be registered officially before a grave can be opened or a cremation booked. One tip I will give you is to ask for several copies of the Death Certificate from the Registrar at the first appointment², at this stage there is no extra charge, otherwise, at a later date, you will be asked to pay for each extra copy.
  • Arrange the funeral – you can use a funeral director or do it yourself. If you decide to do things yourself, the Registrar will give you another form that must be filled in to say what has happened to the body and returned to the Registrars office. Even if old Uncle Felix is sitting in an hourglass on the mantelpiece, you must say that on the form.

Are you listening Elly…….

There is no law that says you must use an undertaker or need a fancy box or the flashiest hearse in the country.

You can transport me the stiff the body, yourself…. In the boot of your old banger the car. That’s right. Bundle me up and bung me in there like an unfinished picnic in a sudden downpour!  Get my son-in-law to fire up the BBQ and away I go! Then go have a “She wasn’t so bad after all!” party and have a ball!

Sorting my personal affairs… NO. Not Toyboy affairs. I mean – hiring a skip, selling the house etc, can all be done later.

If the death has been reported to a coroner you can’t register the death until the coroner gives permission.

A doctor may report the death to a coroner if:

  • the cause of death is unknown
  • the death was violent or unnatural
  • the death was sudden and unexplained
  • the person who died was not visited by a medical practitioner during their final illness
  • the medical certificate is not available
  • the person who died was not seen by the doctor who signed the medical certificate within 14 days before death or after they died
  • the death occurred during an operation or before the person came out of an aesthetic
  • the medical certificate suggests the death may have been caused by an industrial disease or industrial poisoning
  • The coroner may decide that the cause of death is clear. In this case: The doctor signs a medical certificate, and you take the medical certificate to the registrar.
  • The coroner issues a certificate to the registrar stating a post-mortem isn’t needed.

A Post-mortem/autopsy is held:-

To find out how the person died, the coroner may decide a post-mortem is needed. This can be done either in a hospital or mortuary. You can’t object to a coroner’s post-mortem – but if you have asked, the coroner must tell you (and the person’s GP) when and where the examination will take place.

After the post-mortem:

The coroner will release the body for a funeral once they have completed the post-mortem examinations and no further examinations are needed.

² You will need extra copies of the Death Certificate for:

  1. Undertaker if you use one.
  2. Solicitor if he is dealing with the deceased person’s will and/or estate.
  3. Probate office, if everything is straight forward and there is a will, and you feel comfortable in dealing with things yourself.
  4. Bank/s (If you have a joint account and take the death certificate in to them, they will usually make a note that they have seen the death certificate, remove e the deceased person’s name and return the certificate to you, if it is done by post, then they make take weeks or indeed months to return it! Well the poor banks need an excuse to make even more money out of us.
  5. Building societies.
  6. Wages department, if deceased was in employment.
  7. Insurance Company
  8. Pension provider

Do not photocopy a Death certificate, it will be treated like fake money. You need to go back to the Registrars office and pay for them or have a solicitor provide a certified copy…. You will pay handsomely for this.

This site might help: What to do after someone dies in UK

Some local councils run their own funeral services – eg non-religious burials. The British Humanist Association can also help with non-religious funerals.

To arrange a funeral yourself, contact the Cemeteries and Crematorium Department of your local council.

All prices lists above are in £Sterling.

³ I never heard of Paulownia wood before, it comes from China…. All the way to the UK to be used for one day and buried in a hole in the ground, or cast into an oven! That link above makes for an interesting read, and tells of many uses of the wood for making the soundboards of stringed musical instruments, for chests, boxes, and clogs (geta), and is burned to make charcoal for sketching and powder for fireworks.