Richard\’s son Read more [...]
Funeral Directors Category: South East England
Richard\’s son Iain owns the company these days. Richard finally retired after 55 years with the family firm, although he will still conduct funerals if specifically requested. Iain has been part of the business for years, not just as a partner, but fully hands on and involved with taking this long established business forward.
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 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 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 company director Mark Allery retired in 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, helped to make this long-established company as modern and up to date as any we’ve come across, and now Iain has been joined by another Mark who is his new co-director, Mark Hixon.
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 have been completely refurbished (see below) and are also 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, recently refurbished with attractive, contemporary furnishings. 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. It\’s a lovely space, also recently refurbished with stylish wall coverings and good lighting – it\’s as tasteful as the rest of the Steel premises. 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.
The original home of the Steel funeral business was Chesil House, a 19th century building on the banks of the River Itchen. For four generations, Chesil House has been owned and occupied by the Steel family and until 2004 the funeral business was entirely run from here before it expanded to Alderman House. Last time we visited, Iain showed us around Chesil House and explained the plans he had in mind for this beautiful old building, and in 2020 we were invited back to see the results.
It has undergone a huge refurbishment – something that was no mean feat in a listed building- and is now completely transformed. The vision that was once in Iain\’s head has been beautifully and skilfully interpreted by the architect and the building team, and the results are breathtaking. Chesil House is now a fully licensed venue equalling any other in the area, suitable not only for funerals but for weddings, conferences or any other gatherings. It has state of the art audio visual technology, resident caterers and a fully equipped kitchen – everything that you\’d need to host a memorable event.
The outside of the building is still recognisable, and the entrance is the same layout, but as you go through to the main part of the building it opens up like the Tardis. Downstairs, the former chapel has been transformed into a gathering space with comfortable sofas and tables and beautiful decor. Beyond this is a beautiful oak staircase leading up to The Chesil Suite with a stunning modern pendant light feature and a historic old coffin bier acknowledging both the forward looking approach of the company and the respect for the ways of the past. Leading on from the foot of the stairwell you pass the exceptionally lovely loos (think upmarket spa) and the door opens into the Garden Room, an intimate, flexible space that can be used for small funerals or events. It has a screen for photos and a simple music system, and huge picture windows opening on to the stunning private walled garden that is known and beloved by so many Winchester families who have chosen to lay the ashes of their loved one there.
The memorial garden was carefully protected during the building works, with the builders having to find alternative access and support for their scaffolding as they carried out the refurbishment. It was essential to retain the peace and tranquillity of the garden as much as possible even while the interior was being completely transformed, it is a sacred space for many, and Iain and the staff are very aware of their duties as custodians.
Despite the restrictions, the builders exceeded themselves. The Chesil Suite on the first floor is three beautifully appointed spaces, flooded with light from windows in the high ceilings. In the main space around 100 people can be seated for a ceremony, with the coffin laying on a bespoke wooden platform beneath a screen displaying photos or slideshows. Four cameras around the room can record the ceremony, streaming the proceedings live for anyone unable to attend. Footage is then edited into a film recording for the family if they would like a copy. the state of the art audio visual equipment is capably operated discretely at the back of the room by Chris, who manages Chesil House.
The River View Room is adjacent, a perfect space for receptions following ceremonies, with views over the fast flowing river below, and enormous windows that open onto The Deck, the new outdoor space with glass balustrades overlooking the garden and the river. On the Chesil House website, you can watch a video flying around showing The Deck and the views that it offers.
Resident award-winning caterers, The Little Kitchen Company can provide refreshments from drinks and canapés, afternoon tea or a hot and cold buffet, offering families the opportunity to hold both the ceremony and the reception in one place, right in the heart of Winchester.
The new facilities offer complete flexibility, for example, families can 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 also provides families with additional time without the pressure of being at a busy crematorium. Cost-wise, it works out about the same to hire the Chesil Suite for the ceremony and have a private cremation afterwards as it would do to hold the ceremony at the crematorium.
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 the 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.
- Home visits – yes if that’s what you want.
- Same sex person to wash and dress?Yes, just ask.
- Embalming? Steels are advocates of embalming, they believe it is beneficial to viewing the person who has died, however a family can decline this option.
- Ethnic specialism? Winchester is not known for its ethnic diversity but Steels will always help any family that comes to them – they may ask for guidance to ensure that a family receives the help that they need that is culturally appropriate.
- Home arranged funerals – of course. You can have as much advice or assistance as you need.
- Local celebrants – A few hand-picked excellent local celebrants who they trust completely, otherwise Steels have a very good relationship with local clergy. They will suggest the person they think is right for you.
- Website– Good, comprehensive website with details of upcoming funerals, online memorials and some prices.
- Client support – Extremely important. Both Richard and Chelsea are Officers of Winchester Bereavement Support and the company sponsors the charity. A leaflet is included in every client information pack.
- Money matters – Good value for money. If you have a tight budget, tell them. They will tailor the funeral to suit you.
- Parking– Parking on the forecourt at Alderman House. At Chesil House there is a Pay and Display car park over the road, with some parking available in the courtyard in the centenaries of the building.
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 several days with them over the years, 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.