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Family History


It was in 1858 that the cabinet making and furniture broking business established by Leonard Wathall in Siddalls Lane decided to diversify into funerals. Leonard’s son, George, established G Wathall & Son, originally in Green Street, Derby.

Since those early days, the business has gone from strength to strength, six generations of the Wathall family have been involved in the firm, still to this day remains a family affair with Leonard’s great-great granddaughter Helen Wathall at the helm. Helen’s two daughters, Bec and Charlotte, have recently joined Helen, being the sixth generation to work at the firm.

It is the longest established independent funeral directors in Derby and was the largest single-site Independent undertakers in the country until the opening of the Ashbourne Branch in 2007. The business has witnessed many changes during the last 150 years, most recently the addition of two new branches in Alvaston and Borrowash in early 2016.

The first premises were in Green Street, and then later there were offices in London Road, Normanton Road and Gerard Street. At the turn of the century premises were acquired in Macklin Street and this is where the business is still situated today. The stables, which were used to accommodate the horses, now house the fleet of Mercedes Hearses and Limousines that are used today, and which offer families comfort and dignity.

The firm, proud of its long history, still has records of funerals dating back to 1881. Five generations of the Wathall family have succeeded to the business. They have absorbed and adapted to changes and over the years have built up a reputation for the care for the deceased, concern for the bereaved, attention to detail, reliability and fair costs.

We are the longest established independent funeral directors in Derby and until the opening of the Ashbourne office, the largest single-site Independent undertakers in the country.

Henry, who died at the age of 61 in 1918. His sons, William and Henry (Harry) took over at a very young age and it was during their time at the helm that the firm witnessed the significant change from using horses to motor vehicles. Prior to the introduction of motorised vehicles, the firm had about eight horses stabled at its Macklin Street premises. Wathall’s was one of the first funeral directors in the area to use a motorised hearse. The change in the mode of transport brought with it major changes to the Macklin Street premises with the stables being converted into garages. The lay out today remains the same as the one that was brought about by the change in horsepower.

During the First World War, the black Flemish horses were called up to serve with the Army and Harry, who fought in France with the Army, was captured by the Germans and held as a prisoner of war. He won his freedom at the end of the war.

All coffins were made on the premises until the 1980s when the machinery was removed. They are now bought in, although they are still lined on the premises. The firm no longer owns any horses but hires them from a Derbyshire firm when they are requested for funerals.

During the Second World War the firm became part of a joint effort with other businesses in Derby to cover the possibility of civilian deaths due to any air raids on the town. Premises on Abbey Street were altered into a temporary mortuary and G. Wathall & Son Ltd held coffins in stock for the duration of the war in the event of Derby being targeted in large scale air raids. Records of military funerals carried out during the war are still held by the firm. Petrol rationing created many problems both during and after the war. The number of vehicles used for funerals was minimalised in order to conserve fuel.

In 1952 Harry’s son, William (Bill) joined the firm at the age of 20 having completed his National Service, and slowly, over the years, William and Harry began to take a back seat until they both retired in the 1970s. Harry died in 1977, two years before his brother. Bill, a qualified member of the British Institute of Embalmers, worked tirelessly for more than 40 years, latterly as chairman of the company until his death in 1995 at the age of 62. During this time, Bill also gave many talks to local groups about his work and these talks are still fondly remembered

The Management team currently comprises of Helen Wathall, who has been with the company since 1985, as Company Secretary and Managing Director and Paul Edwards as Finance Director since 2001.

The firm is proud of its association with the National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors. It represents over 1000 Independent Funeral Directors from all over the UK. SAIF’s overall objective is to promote and protect the interests of the Independent Funeral Director. It has a well-established and respected voice listened to by National and Local Government, Consumer Groups, Bereavement Services, Religious Organisations and the Media, on all the diverse issues facing the funeral sector. In 2002 Helen became the first woman to be elected President of the Society, which was a great honour.

Proud to provide and accept Golden Charter Pre-Paid Funeral Plans, in 1995, G. Wathall and Son Ltd won the Golden Charter National Funeral Planner of the Year Award for outstanding service, beating 1900 other independent firms and over the years have won the Regional Planner of the Year award 5 times. The sale of Pre-Paid Funeral Plans has increased year on year, as more and more people see the sense in putting their wishes down on paper, and paying at today’s prices. In November 2015 Helen became the first woman to be appointed to the board of directors at Golden Charter.

As times have changed the firm has found itself dealing with traditional and non-traditional funerals. It caters for a wide diversity of families of all denominations. Since 1858, loyal and dedicated staffs have supported the company. Today there are over 30 members of staff providing the traditional, dignified, quality of service, which the people of Derby and the surrounding areas have come to expect.