Freeman Brothers was first established as a funeral director in Horsham, West Sussex in 1855. Now in the hands of the fifth generation of the Freeman family to operate the business, it has seen a number of historical changes in well over a century of running. Last week, current Manager, Abi Pattenden, delved into the archives to uncover what was happening at Freeman Brothers during some important dates for the British royal family. She continues here, with details covering the coronations of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II…
‘The abdication crisis’ was a prominent news story throughout 1936, but business had to continue as usual. The Freemans may have been very interested in news from Buckingham Palace, but even the most historic of days had work to do- on 11th December, the day after Edward VIII signed his abdication papers and his younger brother, Albert, acceded to the throne as George VI, the ledger shows them carrying out funeral work on behalf of a Mr Davies, of The Forge, Capel (now the busy doctor’s surgery). Mr Davies seems to have been a Funeral Director who regularly subcontracted work to a larger company such as Freeman Brothers- this was very common at the time and there are many similar arrangements in the ledgers of this period. It is possible that, after travelling to Beare Green to collect Mr Davies’ deceased client and furnishing her coffin, Albert may have spent the evening listening with his family to Prince Edward (as he was now known) explaining his decision to abdicate in a worldwide broadcast on BBC radio.
George VI was crowned in May 1937, on the day originally designated as his older brother’s Coronation date. This was a busy time for Freeman Brothers, and we see from the ledgers that we were working both on the day before, for a funeral for a John Stevens, and the day after, for a funeral for a Mrs Stillaway, who had died on Coronation day. Many people’s funerals began to be arranged on the day they died in this period, but Mrs Stillaway’s started the day later. We can only speculate as to why this might be- perhaps the Freeman family had decided to take a rare day off to celebrate the enthroning of a new king. We don’t know if they were among the first people in the country to have a television at home- the Coronation procession became the country’s first major outside broadcast- but they would have definitely been able to listen on radio. Of course, this could be equally true of Mrs Stillaway’s family, who may have wanted to wait until the day had concluded- or she may simply have died too late in the day for any preparations to begin until the 13th.
George VI reigned until early 1952, when he died at the age of 56, after a long period of very ill health. As we know, his daughter, Elizabeth, became Queen Elizabeth II and went on to reign for over 70 years.
Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation took over a year of planning. The ceremony inside Westminster Abbey was the first to be televised, with over 270 million people watching worldwide. June 1953 was a month filled with excitement, but also a significant time for Freeman Brothers as the business undertook a major appraisal, counting stock and setting a baseline value for vehicles and other assets. Ledgers of the period show ownership of vehicles valued at £1,190- over £40,000 in today’s money and significant expenditure on wages, stationery, and other vehicle expenses such as insurance and petrol. By this time, Albert’s son, Roy, would have been involved in the business (he would be in sole charge just ten years later when Albert died in 1963). Roy, who worked with his wife Beryl in the company for many years, was renowned for his organisation and liking to have everything on paper, so perhaps this first instance (that I can find) of such a thorough assessment of the business’ assets and expenditure is a sign of his growing interest in the company that was to be his livelihood.
I hope you have enjoyed this historical look back into the Freeman Brothers archives as we look forward to the Coronation of King Charles III- our offices will be observing the designated additional Bank Holiday on 8th May, though our on-call team will be available to assist anyone who may need help. It’s amazing that our records can provide this historical context, and I hope future Freeman Brothers employees can look back on our current records with just as much interest, in many years to come.