The Dilnot Smith family tree is fairly long and has been traced back to the invasion of William the Conqueror. Our side of the family has always remained in Woodnesborough.
Although early family records were destroyed, I can prove 6 generations of Funeral Directors. John Dilnot Smith, my Great-Grandfather, moved to “Belle Vue” Beacon Lane, Woodnesborough in 1900 when the present house was built. The family business was Building Contractors/Wheelwrights and Undertakers. His son Richard came into the business after the 1st World War, and continued until my father, Ernest took control in 1960.
The funeral undertaking side of the business had grown to the point where my father dropped the building side and traded solely as Funeral Directors. I entered into partnership with my father in January 1984 and eventually bought out his share in October 1988.
My wife Sally and I started a programme of development and modernisation which resulted with the opening of a branch office at Walmer in 1991.
opening of a branch office at Walmer in 1991
To say that there have been a few changes is quite an understatement. It has been known for the news of a person’s death and the request for our services to be sent to Great-Grandfather or Grandfather “Dickie” by letter. After the initial interview and taking of measurements a coffin of oak or elm would have been hand made, lined with swansdown and fitted with the chosen handles. The deceased would have been bathed and prepared by the local nurse or midwife, Ellen Dilnot Smith (my great aunt - keep it in the family) and the coffin delivered at dusk. If the house was local this was quite often done by hand cart. The deceased would then stay at home until the funeral.
Today, the practice is for the deceased to be removed by specialist vehicle to our chapel of rest, where we have trained staff, a fully equipped embalming theatre and refrigeration facilities. Many people come to our chapel of rest to pay their last respects, the practice of the coffin being in the front room has almost disappeared.
The hearse has also changed over the years from a cart covered with a pall, to horse drawn hearse, Rolls Royce motor hearse to our present day vehicles which are Mercedes by origin. New vehicles cost in excess of £95,000.00 + VAT which is why I lavish care on our existing fleet.
In 1988 Sally and I were “on call” 24 hrs a day and 7 days a week, only calling on our casual staff for house removals and funerals. The development of mobile phones enabled us to almost have a normal family life. We now have five full time employees who cover the “on call” system, allowing Sally and myself more free time, (this is taken up providing a taxi service for our children).
I arrange funerals for the same families as did my father, grandfather etc. as well as families to whom I have no connection, but the words of guidance handed on by my father apply at all time. “Treat all the deceased with the same care and respect that you would give a member of your own family”. We arrange funerals over a large rural area and regularly travel to various parts of the country. Deaths abroad pose no problem these days as arrangements can be made quickly by fax, email and telephone.
Many funerals are sad and quiet farewells, some are tragic and heart rending (even for supposedly hardened professionals), but occasionally we are able to arrange a funeral which is a glorious celebration of a persons life. I meet many bereaved at their lowest ebb and to some can be a reminder of their loss, but I am always grateful to the friendship extended by these families.
Ian Dilnot Smith