Tom the undertaker

Bring out your dead! Memories of a 1950s working life before a Brighton move

By Nicola Benge

Photo:Tom today

Tom today

Photo from WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

Photo:Tom tells his story

Tom tells his story

Photo from WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

Tom remembers undertaking the 1950s

It all started in the 1950s when there was a big influenza epidemic. I used to work for a builder and undertaker, and he asked me to stand in because all the other undertakers got the flu! I'd never done it before. So, I had to learn quick. We had to bring coffins out of houses, shoulder high, into the church overnight. Then of course, I had to dig the graves. That was hard work, the ground was all rock.

The ones I remember

I've got two special ones in mind. The first one was a chap of 95 and he lived in a cottage across the fields. At that time they were digging up the village to put the sewerage in. We went by lorry to his house. We had to take the banisters down in his house to get the coffin out. I remember him from when I was young. He used to give me sweets when I was a nipper. It was quite sad bringing him out. I had a tear in my eye.

My favourite

Then there was another one. During the summer holidays at school when I was little, we used to play soldiers, going across the sand dunes, we'd all meet up, take our bikes. There was a lovely lady there who was like a second mother to me. She used to bring us lemonade and cakes. When I was working as the undertaker, I got a call. This lady when she died, of cancer, this was about fifteen years later, we had to bring her coffin out on a bier for the funeral the next day. Mrs Bristow she was. I got very upset.

I was an undertaker about two years until I left the village I was living in. My family were all agricultural workers so we always travelled around in West Sussex and Hampshire.

This page was added by Nicola Benge on 06/06/2008.

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