Vintage Lorry Funerals second assignment for Thomas Davis Funeral Directors in
Bristol involved visiting the Deceased’s home in
and then St. Michaels & All Angels Church in Bedminster before going to
South Bristol Crematorium. As Temple Cloud is 12 miles south
of Thomas Davis’ Southville base, Austin Williams, Funeral Director, asked
David Hall to find a suitable transhipment facility on the A37 where the coffin
and the flowers could be transferred onto the 1950 Leyland Beaver lorry. Temple
David managed to secure the permission to undertake the operation within the car park of the Warwick Arms which is little used in the early morning on a Monday in October.
Austin told David that the
flowers would only involve a Coffin Spray, however, the Florist would be
Eileen’s of West Street Bedminster. Austin’s
concerns at this early stage were whether the vintage lorry would manage to get
to the Church in Windmill Hill, an area in Bristol with narrow streets, renowned for
their parking problems. The only way into Windmill Hill is under a Railway Bridge
and these rows of terraced streets are isolated from the rest of Bristol creating a unique
culture in which residents believe they are a law unto themselves. Residents
believe that they have a right to park their car in front of their house or
flat and the situation is exasperated when a large funeral takes place in St.
Michaels & All Angels Church, which is opposite Windmill Hill Community
Centre. When it comes to parking cars before a funeral, vehicles are deposited
anywhere particularly on corners with driver oblivious to the double yellow
lines. Thomas Davis had previously encountered problems with their hearse
struggling to get to the church so logically the 26 foot long lorry would
experience horrendous difficulties. David undertook a risk assessment and
identified a route targeting wider streets with houses only on one side which
would lead to approaching St. Michaels & All Angels Church on level ground.
David phoned Eileen’s Florists and spoke to Carol who had not yet heard from the Family, however, David used the opportunity to explain how the Coffin Spray would be secured. Carol explained that the shop had no internet facility but she promised to phone David as soon as any orders were placed. David rang
Austin on the Wednesday and told him that he
needed information on the flowers as soon as possible even if it was just a
Coffin Spray. David’s wife received a call from Carol on the Thursday morning to
advise that David would have to plan to load, two 3 feet long Designer Boards,
a Swinging Heart, a 17 inch Heart, a Polo Ring and a Bundle of Leeks which the
Family had asked to be held vertically. Carol was also adamant that her flowers
should be carried flat on the deck as she didn’t want her flowers damaged!
When David got back home he was amazed at the number of Tributes for a ‘Coffin Spray only’ funeral and was concerned that if the flowers were laid flat on the deck they would be damaged and the only way that the flowers would not be damaged would be by fixing them to boards held at an angle, displaying the Floral Tributes for all to see. David put the problem to Austin Williams who spoke to the Family and reported that they would trust David’s judgement. So David phoned Carol to convince her that his strategy and tactics for securing Floral Tributes would not damage the flowers. A Florist without internet facilities is like Fish without Chips in 1950’s vernacular or Ant without Dec in today’s parlance. Without the facility to send a picture David would have to explain what he was proposing over the phone. Many years ago David worked for Gerald Ronson who used to encourage Junior Management to identify their biggest problem, be persistent in tackling it and this would create their biggest opportunity and so this proved with Carol.
David normally tells people what he does but he doesn’t reveal how he does it, however, he had to break this rule for Carol. Once she understood that David would use plastic fasteners to secure the flowers Carol was relaxed and told David the colours of each Tribute so that he could allocate the fastener in his collection of the right colour to match each flower arrangement.
Normally David would design a layout, sketch it and email it to the Family for approval, however, by noon on Friday it was time for action not planning and thinking. Carol explained that as the Deceased was Welsh she had been tasked to provide a bundle of leeks and David said that if she was struggling he would ask his friends at SK Fruits Trowbridge to help. Designing on the hoof David quickly determined that the two Designer Boards, ‘GRANCHA’ and ‘AS 1’, should be loaded together and he saw a way of creating the rear of a car with ‘GRANCHA’ forming the rear window and ‘AS 1’ being the number-plate on the boot. The remaining Floral Tributes were given individual positions on 4 sides of a pyramidal structure at the rear of the deck, with the Bundle of Leeks, held vertically, facing the Family following in the limousine.
David left home early on the Monday morning passing through
Somerset villages whilst most people were
still in their beds. This strategy is ideal for the narrow streets in Norton
St. Philip, the site of the Pitchfork Rebellion on June 26th &
27th 1685. The transhipment of the coffin and flowers worked well
with Thomas Davis employees handing Tributes up to David who secured each one
onto its stand whilst rain fell steadily. As soon as the coffin was loaded the
rainfall subsided which is normally the case.
As the vintage lorry followed the empty hearse towards Windmill Hill Austin Williams asked David, ‘Are you confident you can get to the church?’ David confirmed that he didn’t feel there would be a problem that he couldn’t overcome, however, he knew that
probably had the hearse in front as Plan B. The Leyland Beaver passed under the
Railway bridge, climbed Windmill Hill and took a right into Alfred Road as David’s research had
suggested that there would be less cars on this route rather than the more
direct way to the Church using Gwilliam
Street. As the lorry turned left into Somerset
Terrace David saw that people had left cars in a hurry to get to the service,
leaving them at an angle to the kerb. The hearse in front slowed down at a
narrow gap and David knew that with his lorry being over 12 inches wider than a
hearse then this gap would be extremely tight. David asked Austin to put his head out of the window to
check the clearance on his side which was less than an inch and he said, ‘Dave
you’re clear on this side, I’m confident you’ll make the church.’ Austin is a big man with
immense presence, just the sort of bloke to give a half time talk at Ashton
Gate after a mediocre first half display by the Robins. At the junction with Orwell Street cars had
been dumped on double yellow lines on both side of the road on corner which
made it extremely difficult for the hearse in front to get around. David
realised that he couldn’t get around the corner in one movement, put in one
shunt, wrestling with the steering wheel changing the lock as quickly as
possible. Miraculously the vintage lorry cleared the cars and descended to the
clear area outside St. Michaels & All Angels Church, which David likened to
man dying of thirst finding an oasis in the desert.
David got out of the Leyland Beaver, shook the Vicar’s hand and asked, ‘Is this
St. Michaels & All Angels, or is it St. Michaels
& Cars at All Angles?’ The Vicar smiled as he urged drivers to park on his
lawn to escape the gridlock. Surveying a sea of cars around him David said to
the Vicar, ‘In the Good Book a bloke called Moses hit his stick on a rock and
caused the Red Sea to part, creating a path to
safety. Could you tap your staff on the path and create a path through these
cars?’ The Vicar explained which cars were associated with the funeral and
predicted that Gwilliam Street
would provide the best exit.
After the service the Vicar admired the Leyland Beaver and asked if he could ride alongside David to South Bristol Crematorium. However, David didn’t think it was wise to put
out, as David was always taught that the Paymaster is the Saymaster.