50 Years of History

As with the way of life itself, the role of the undertaker has changed so much over the years. As we celebrate 50 years since Cliff Bradley started in business on his own, we look back over that time and recall stories of his years in the profession.

How It All Began Gainsborough

How It All Began

On leaving Ropery School at the age of 15, Cliff began his apprenticeship with Wildbores, a joinery, shop fitters and funeral directors on Wembley Street in Gainsborough. He biked to work from Blyton and work began at 7.30am. For the next six years, Cliff was to learn the trade. He recalls the first time his duty was performed as a funeral director. Mr Wildbore said to him "Are you coming in with me" to which Cliff replied, "Well, I’ve got to learn sometime" and so he duly followed his boss into the very basic room 8ft by 10ft with a marble slab in the middle. That first time, Cliff recalls it was a lady from Morton and they went in to measure the size of the body to enable them to make the coffin.

Cliff was then taught how to make a coffin. That first one he helped to make was made on two saw stools and whoever you were making it with insisted you had to try it out! Then, the lid went on. As you can by now picture the scene, after a few minutes Cliff tried to get out. The helpful tutor was sat firmly on the coffin lid. Cliff thought, they’ll let me out in a minute and settled down, only to be aroused as a big wooden mallet was bashed just about where his head was resting in the coffin. No chance of a kip then? Full of humour and hard work, Cliff is forever grateful for those days.

The workers were expected to act as pall bearers for the funerals. A typical working day was a busy one doing joinery, and when the time came, quickly getting changed into a black suit, usually getting a ride to the church in the funeral cars. Duty over and it was back to work in your working clothes again. The bearers didn’t travel to the crematorium which, of course, in those days, the nearest one was at Grimsby. Mr Wildbore and his hearse driver took the body to the crematorium and separate bearers from there performed the duty at that end. Only the main family mourners would follow to the crematorium in a limousine.

Six months into his employment, the firm would buy basic tools, and each week about two bob would bestopped out of your wages to pay for them. Wildbores was a great place to work. Cliff had the utmost respect for Charlie (Wildbore's son). He was a very fair man. If it was a particularly cold day, he would sidle up to Cliff and say "Are you a bit cold, boy? Well work a bit harder, earned heat is the best!" Cliff hadn’t been there long and Charlie told him "If you break anything, come and tell me. You might get a rollocking, but you’ll get a bigger bugger if you don’t". Sadly, Charlie died and eventually the funeral directors ceased trading, but Cliff stayed with them until it closed. On leaving, Cliff decided to start on his own in the village where he still lived with mum and dad, and so begins the first 50 years. Cliff still maintains to this day, he owes his success and experience to Wildbores for a wonderful start in his working life and will be forever grateful to them for taking him on all those years ago.

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Photos Through History

Early Days

As with most village undertakers, their occupation was also as a joiner, the bread and butter money earned in that way. I’ve heard Cliff say many times how he used to make clothes props and clothes horses, and also dolls houses and miniature ironing boards for the children and take them out on Christmas Eve. But, as you can well imagine, while busy making such things, someone only had to come and say there was a death in the village, and that his services would be required and the work bench would be cleared ready to make a coffin.

His first funeral as a village undertaker was Lilian Thompson, from High Street in Blyton. She was 84 years old and her funeral took place on 28 May 1964. It would take Cliff about a day to make a coffin in his workshop. As soon as the coffin was made, it would be taken back to the house and the body placed in it, and either left upstairs, or, if preferred, they would, with two people, be carried downstairs and placed on the dining room table in the front room. The curtains would be drawn. Very brief details were taken in those days. A small notebook would be all that was necessary to take a few notes.

CoffinIt was also his job to inform the grave digger with a coffin size. Most churches in those days had a sexton who dug the grave. Cliff, as he still does to this day, always checked the job was done and dug to the correct size before the funeral. He never takes it for granted, wouldn’t want the coffin to get stuck and not go down the hole. In the early days, Cliff also took a woodwork class at the Technical College on Morton Terrace. Each Monday afternoon for a two hour class, Cliff taught a ladies group basic woodworking skills.

The first funerals would all be village led, and therefore no cars would be needed. As the years progressed, Cliff expanded to the Scunthorpe area as he had moved to live at Northorpe. His area covered Scotter and Messingham, but after purchasing the property on the edge of the North Street car park, his work slowly brought him back into Gainsborough. Scunthorpe and Lincoln crematoriums were built in the 60’s and as more people got used to the idea of cremation, a larger scale operation would be put underway which involved hiring in hearses and limousines to cover the distance.

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As your dedicated local funeral directors, we are here to advise you in making all the arrangements required. Please remember that we are here to help you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in whatever way we can. If you require any help, advice or assistance, please do not hesitate contacting us by phone, email or by using the contact form on our contact page.

Torr Street

In 1995, sadness struck when Cliff's wife passed away and his plans for expanding the business were put temporarily on hold. He had just purchased his first limousine and was in the market for his first hearse. When the opportunity came up a few months later, he travelled to Liverpool, with his young son, Carlton, to collect a hearse sent over from Ireland. Owning his fleet of vehicles had begun. Also around this time the opportunity to purchase the former BT property on Torr Street came up and this is when things started to progress. Many months of hard work lay ahead in order to convert the premises to be suitable for the flower shop and funeral home, and then, subsequently, the living accommodation at the side.

This meant knocking down walls, building studded walls, bricking up doorways, plastering, painting, all of course while still running two businesses. From gaining possession of the property, it was always Cliff ’s ambition to rid the building of the tin structure. The most major refurbishment, however, began in 2009 when it was decided to take things to another level, literally. It meant, of course, building upwards. The last of the tin was at last to be removed. It was a huge operation involving major calculations from a very clever structural engineer, checking on the footings of the building to take the weight of this huge extension.

We were very proud on 14th April 2010 when we unveiled the new extension. The Chairman of WLDC, Councillor Mrs Jessie Milne performed her official duty for us and the building was dedicated by the Reverend Phillip Wain. So now, work completed, it's business as usual and Cliff can look back on his steady progress over the past 50 years and feel proud of his achievement.