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Funeral Directors Category: South East England
The firm comprises of two businesses, ‘C. Waterhouse & Sons’ and also ‘Heathfield Funeral Service’. Established by Charlie Waterhouse in 1926, the family business is still based in the pretty cottages in Burwash where he lived and worked 90 years ago, and his daughter Dorothy remains very involved with the day to day running of the company, which is now in the hands of her son Tim.
Dorothy is a former nurse who began helping her father with the undertaking business in her early 20’s after the death of her mother. Some fifty years on, Dorothy’s dedication to families and her many decades of deep expertise in all aspects of funerals are part of the fabric of the business, and her values are embedded in the way that the company works. Her touch is everywhere, from the choice of wallpaper, to the spotlessly clean and tidy premises, and it is evident that the standards have been set here at the highest possible level. With her late husband, Paul, Dorothy was a shaker and mover in the funeral industry for years and her mission has always been to provide care at a level where there seems to be no divide between her team and your family.
Dorothy’s son Tim echoes the family ethos and is immensely proud of the close-knit relationship the business has with the community it belongs to. Tim worked for an insurance company before joining the company in 1994, bringing with him his experience from a world outside of funerals. A staunch Rotarian and a Past President of Heathfield and Waldron Rotary Club, Tim is also a keen golfer, although it is hard to see how he has time to enjoy a life outside work as he is 100% focused on ensuring that every single family receives the best possible experience. He has his eye on everything, and tries not to miss a single detail, ensuring that everything is checked and checked again and that every funeral is as perfect as it can possibly be.
Tim’s sister Clare Waterhouse joined the company after a successful career in the legal profession. Having qualified in 1996 as a Fellow of the Institute of the Legal Executives (FILEX) – a qualification she maintains – Clare specialised in probate and inheritance tax wealth management planning for nearly 30 years. When an opportunity arose to pursue a new career in a different direction Clare was very keen to take the opportunity to work with her mother Dorothy, brother Tim and nephew Charles .
In her role, Clare focuses on every aspect of the business and as well as being involved in the operational side, she is the main contact for community relationships. She has a keen eye for detail and is also able to use her previous experience in probate if families need a helping hand with the probate process.
There are no plans for big expansion at C. Waterhouse; Tim is happy to maintain the high level of service that the company offers from its two branches rather than opening more offices and sacrificing their standards. He would rather the company remain personal and local, with a small hand picked team working in and for their community. This is not to say that the business is standing still or complacent; it is quite the opposite.
C. Waterhouse is leading the way for small independent funeral directors in embracing the changes in society that are affecting us all, and they are looking ahead to a future where the local loyalty of clientele will inevitably be influenced by the internet and unparalleled access to information for bereaved families, and changing expectations from clients. The company has seen the changes ahead, and is responding to them now in preparation for the shift in consumer behaviour they believe to be coming. This has paid dividends with the adjustments that have been needed to cope with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, and enabled this compact company to navigate the unprecedented demand for their services brought about in early 2021 when the area was hit hard by numbers of people dying from the virus.
Some things won’t ever change here; the warmth and comfort that the staff meet you with, so that the process of creating the funeral can be rich and sustaining, the reverence with which the dead are cared for, the attention to detail and the spotless, immaculate surroundings will all be maintained as long as a Waterhouse family member is involved, but there have been recent subtle shifts in some of the supplementary things – new, smart brochures, for instance, and an improved website. Everything is transparent, their prices are clearly displayed online and there are no parts of the funeral homes that you would be prevented from seeing if you wanted to. They have nothing to hide here.
The family team also includes Tim’s wife Jacky who works within the company’s stonemasonry and memorials business, and Tim’s son Charles, who graduated from Norwich University of Art with a 1st Class Honours Degree. The Waterhouse family are excellently complemented by a group of devoted staff, several of whom have been with the firm for well over a decade. Dorothy’s stated view is that if a firm takes good care of its people, that ethos of care will flow in the way they do their jobs.
The family is joined and supported by the remainder of the team; Teresa Powell Fairweather and Mandi Somerville are based at the Burwash office where they arrange many of the funerals, Wendy Mitchell runs the Heathfield office, and David Rhys-Jones, who conducts most of the funerals, looks after the company’s Health & Safety requirements, and whose other duties seem to cover absolutely everything. Brian Curtain and Chris Porter look after the vehicles and carry out workshop duties, as well as assisting with collecting people to bring them into the company’s care.
Waterhouse people are particularly proud of their premises at Burwash, where Charlie started the business and where most of the team are based. The two listed cottages that the business occupies are delightful – as you step in from the High Street to Mabel’s Cottage, you step into a front lounge, complete with fireplace and armchairs. There are no desks or formal furnishings here; you can feel the years of history and the sense of family life and the fireplace and family photographs add to a sense of familiarity and ease. It’s immediately reassuring and unthreatening, and the staff’s immediate tendency is to put the kettle on and then settle down to listen to you. Under the Covid restrictions of 2020 and 2021, this hasn’t been possible as arrangements moved to being made by phone or online, but eventually everyone hopes to be able to return to the in-person visiting to the company premises.
The chapel of rest is at the rear of the cottage in a separate building with its own access. Families can spend as much time as they want here with the person who has died, there is a separate little room with armchairs and a supply of tea can be brought from the main building if needed.
A newer branch of the business – trading as Heathfield Funeral Service, is managed by Wendy Mitchell, who has been with C. Waterhouse for fourteen years. Despite the Heathfield office being in a newer building, the domestic feel of the Burwash office is echoed in the cosy, comfortable meeting rooms with their unusual wallpaper. There is the same sense of quality and attention to detail and the same quiet feeling of welcome at both branches.
As is probably apparent, this firm has a strong commitment to cleanliness and order: you’d go a long way to find a more thoroughly valeted car. Brian Curtain, who manages the fleet, assisted by Chris Porter, likes to keep the garage floors painted, as he says it keeps the dust down. The firm is proud of their fleet of vehicles, which alongside the traditional Mercedes hearse and limousine, includes two silver 4×4 Subaru estate cars, a silver Mercedes estate and a Range Rover Sport. From a very practical point of view they’ll be able to make your funeral happen even in the worst weather as the Subaru’s can be used as a hearse and limousine if need be. They are happy to branch out into alternative modes of transport, such as horse-drawn or motorcycle vehicles or an old-fashioned London bus.
Given C. Waterhouse’s location, many of the funerals they arrange have a traditional feel and a church component. They conduct more burials than the average. Though they have a traditional outlook, this does not limit them: they say that ‘If it feels like the right thing to do, it probably is’.
They pride themselves on the smart presentation of their people and vehicles, and on their excellent attention to detail. Their bearers wear navy pinstriped suits rather than black, something that sets them apart from other companies, and they’ll wear ties in any colour you care to prescribe. They’ll take your choices of music very seriously: they’ll study it closely and time it, aiming to match the rhythm of the proceedings with the rhythm of the music. They’ll want to help you get the seating arrangements right: they’ll send some of their people ahead to the funeral venue to be sure that someone is there to welcome your guests.
The watchwords at C. Waterhouse are kindness, immaculate execution, and engaged care. They are very conscious of transparency, and also of the impact that austerity might have on families, and offer affordable options with great sensitivity. They are also exceptionally good at organising highly complicated, high profile funerals for families, they have the confidence and experience that enables them to take on any size or scale of funeral with equal ability.
They want to take the time to get a sense of the person who has died, so that they can make helpful suggestions for the funeral arrangements and support you to create a rich and appropriate event.
Behind the scenes (which are always open to inspection by anyone who cares to do so), the devotion to the care of the dead is beyond compare. They combine a commitment to beauty with a pragmatic awareness of hygiene, taking care to ‘lay out’ in an atmosphere of calm and quiet, seeing the care of the dead as a sacred trust. They are so keen on this aspect of the care of the dead that they run exceptionally good training sessions about it for local nursing homes and hospitals. The dead are always referred to formally, as Mr. or Mrs Surname.
On the day of the funeral, the C. Waterhouse people see their job as being on top of every practicality, so that you can simply concentrate on being present to what is taking place.
There is a dynamism in this company which blends seamlessly with the quality of service inherited from previous generations. C. Waterhouse is a business that is looking to the future and preparing for it, while concentrating with dedication on every funeral that they are engaged to carry out.
We particularly liked their thoughtful approach to offering direct cremation as an alternative of equal merit to a more traditional funeral, with the offer of a little ceremony beforehand in the chapel, and the suggestion that a family might like to follow the coffin in their own car to the crematorium gates on the final journey – little touches that illustrate the humanity and consideration that informs the running of this business.
We also liked the unique ‘knotty oak’ coffins that are only available from C. Waterhouse, and the choice of navy blue pinstripes for their funeral attire – both features appreciated by the local community.
They have a skilled stone-masonry department that can offer good information on the subject of memorial masonry. Unusually, they offer hand-cut lettering on headstones as an option, and they can give you informed guidance about the various local churchyards’ regulations. A product of their imaginative helpfulness is the little memorials garden that they have installed behind the Burwash office: the display of examples of real headstones in various shapes and materials enables you to make a better choice than might be possible from looking in a catalogue.
- Your telephone callwill be taken by one of the team, day or night. Outside office hours, Karen, David R-J, Clare and Tim take turns in receiving calls at their homes. If the person who has died is to be collected during the night, they’ll aim for their staff to be with you within an hour. Whoever takes your call will let you know the names of the colleagues who’ll be coming.
- Home visit: no problem, just ask. (Covid restrictions permitting).
- Embalming: They’ll discuss the pros and cons with you. If you wish to spend time with the person who has died they will suggest embalming where it would avert unpleasant effects.
- Continuity of care: You will deal with a small team of funeral arrangers and one funeral director, all working as a team.
- Family participation: While the people at C. Waterhouse take great pride in preparing the bodies of the dead (styling freshly-washed hair according to photographs, for example), they very much encourage family participation. There are comfortable facilities for you to spend time with the person who has died, and no shortage of cups of tea. They’ll encourage you to carry the coffin at the funeral, if you want, and will rehearse you in the task to build your confidence. They also see the significance of the final closing of a coffin, and will, if you wish to be there, encourage you to take part in that, too. And to ride with the coffin in the hearse, if you like.
- Same sex person to wash and dress: no problem, just ask.
- Ethnic specialism: the people at C. Waterhouse are keen to provide what is needed for people from any background. The key to their engagement is research: they will delve into any cultural circumstance, make an advance recce of any new venue, whether the focus is a military funeral, a Russian orthodox mass or the Chinese provision of accoutrements for the dead.
- Local Celebrants: C. Waterhouse are well wired to local clergy, and also work closely with a few carefully selected celebrants for whom they consistently receive excellent feedback from their clients.
This is a place where you can make your funeral arrangements without any sense of having to be on your guard. They aim to do everything possible to put you at your ease and allay your anxieties, offering you the time and space to consider what you want to do.
There’s an absence of cynicism in C Waterhouse’s business practice, with effects that you may not even notice. For example, they make no extra charge for handling the charitable donations that people may make in memory of the person who has died. There is no flaunting of the kindnesses that are woven into their approach, and there’s no upselling of features you don’t want or need. Their way of operating comes from a committed and decades-long engagement in their local communities. They are proud of their presence, wanting to offer the same excellent service to everybody, ‘dukes and dustmen’.
We think they are exceptionally good at what they do.
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.