Heathfield Funeral Service

  • 2018

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 fully 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 (now retired) husband, Dorothy has been 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.

    Clare Waterhouse has recently 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), Clare has specialised in probate and inheritance tax wealth management planning for nearly 30 years.

    Clare was very keen to take the opportunity to work with her mother Dorothy, brother Tim and nephew Charles when an opportunity arose to pursue a new career in a different direction.

    Clare will focus on every aspect of the business and as well as being involved in the operational side, she will be the main contact for community relationships.

    Clare 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. She still maintains her FILEX qualification

    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.

    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 a planned improved website.

    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 recently left 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.

    Other staff you may encounter are David Hyland, who has four decades of experience and who conducts funerals as well as working within the stonemasonry department, Karen O’Keeffe who oversees the Burwash office, Wendy Mitchell who runs the Heathfield office, and David Rhys-Jones, who conducts funerals, looks after the company’s Health & Safety requirements, and whose other duties seem to cover everything.

    1. 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.

    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 4×4 Subaru estate cars, a 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.

    Specific Gravity

    Given Heathfield Funeral Service’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.

    What’s Important?

    The watchwords at Heathfield Funeral Service 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 Heathfield 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.

    What’s Different?

    There is a dynamism in this company which blends seamlessly with the quality of service inherited from previous generations. Heathfield Funeral Service 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 Heathfield Funeral Service and C. Waterhouse, and the choice of navy blue pinstripes for their funeral attire – both features appreciated by the local community.

    They also 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 body of the dead person 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.
    • 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 Heathfield Funeral Service 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 Heathfield Funeral Service 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: The staff 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.
    • Home-arranged funerals: they are more than happy to offer whatever level of service you want.  For example, they will accommodate your provision of your own coffin or your own transport, and advise you on how to make arrangements to keep a body at home, if that’s what you prefer to do. They are fully supportive of families whatever level of involvement is required of them.
    • Website: The website is due for another upgrade soon, but the current version adequately meets its aim of giving a flavour of what the company is like.  Staff profiles include notes on their outside interests to give you an idea of the whole person.  There are useful links to listings of registrars’ and coroners’ addresses, local hospitals and hospices, national religious and secular organisations, and local florists.
    • Client support: They hold an annual remembrance event.  They also make introductions to counsellors if you feel you’re not coping with bereavement as well as you’d wish.
    • Prices: They will provide you with an informative printed price-list that includes photographs of coffins and ashes caskets.  They encourage you to take your time when making funeral arrangements, and to shop around if you want to.  They’ll draw up an itemised estimate and make sure you understand its components; you’ll sign it as a contract only when you are happy.  Prices here are competitive, and if funds are limited, the C. Waterhouse & Heathfield Funeral Service direct cremation alternative is a sensitive and realistic affordable alternative at under £2,000 in total. What makes them especially good value is the quality of the service you receive, which is simply outstanding. Currently prices aren’t shown on their website but this is due to change with the advent of a new website.
    • Parking: no problem, with car parks adjacent to each of the premises.


    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 the C. Waterhouse & Heathfield Funeral Service’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.

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