Here Digger talks to David Hall
who runs Vintage Lorry Funerals.
David has introduced some
innovative uses for a classic truck from 1950. You could
arrive in style to some important event, have a memorable ride
as a Birthday Treat or in its prime use which is for a most
fitting dignified exit.
David offers some individuality
to the personalisation of a funeral bringing a respectful
element of colour to what is normally a sad event. By offering
a customised unique send off for the deceased, carrying the
coffin on a classic Leyland lorry, this is truly a dignified
and bespoke service. For a funeral that evokes memories of the
deceased, and creates a sense of joy to the attendees,
onlookers and passers-by, Vintage Lorry Funerals provides a
very personal undertaking.
Top. The Fellside Transport
1950 Leyland Beaver that took me to Hawick in 1958.
funeral lorry in a beautiful John Constable-style setting.
A military funeral in Swindon
for an RAF man whose family were also attracted to the wings
on the cab.
Digger: What is your background
David: I came from a humble
background in the north-east of England. We lived in a two-up,
two-down terraced house, where the front room downstairs was
only used for funerals and at Christmas. Everything happened
in the back room; playing, eating and bathing in a tin bath in
front of the fire, with the clothes horse’s main function
being as a modesty screen. The front door opened directly onto
the street and there was a small yard at the back with a coal
house and the W.C. My background is similar to many kids in
the 1950’s, but what made us different to other families were
our holidays. Unlike others who would take the train to
Blackpool or Scarborough, we went to a farm in Cumberland where
my Mum had been evacuated to in WWII.
Digger: And please tell us
about your passion for these vintage lorries?
David: On our way to the farm in
1957, the crank-shaft broke in our old Austin van on the top of
Cross Fell. A motorcyclist gave my Dad a ride to the Helm Wind
Café where he used their phone to contact the farmer, who
towed my Dad to the top of the Fell. He coasted over 6
miles into the farmyard. Knowing it was going to take over 2
weeks to repair the van, the farmer took my Mum, Dad and my
infant Sister in her carrycot home, but there was no room in
the car for me. I was only 4 and had never been left on my own
before. The farmer’s wife was a lovely person and got her
father, Albert Kelso, to visit me. Albert ran his own haulage
company, moving livestock from farms into markets, and he took
pity on me, taking me back to his yard in Lazonby. I spent
many happy hours riding in 1950s lorries. In 1958 I spent a
week in Lazonby whilst the rest of my family were at the farm.
On the last day Mum told me not to go far as we were going
home that night, collecting me at 1700 hours. At 1630 hours, a
1950 Leyland Beaver rolled into the yard and I helped refuel
it, as a quick turnaround was required. Totally oblivious to
what my Mum had said, I asked the driver if I could go with
him and I jumped into the cab, not knowing that we were bound
for Hawick in Scotland! I remember standing shivering in my
T-shirt at 2100 hours in Hawick Auction Mart, keeping my hands
fixed firmly in my pockets, in case the man with the hammer
mistook a hand gesture and I ended up with 20 sheep. I
eventually got back to Plumpton on the A6 at 2300 hours, where
Albert Kelso came to collect me in his Standard Vanguard.
That day shaped my life. I went into Transport Management and
when in 1996 I got the chance to buy a 1950 Leyland Beaver,
just like the one that took me to Hawick in 1958, I couldn’t
Digger: Can you please tell us
how Vintage Lorry Funerals started and how the company has
evolved into what it is today?
David: During a quiet period in my
self employment interim management business, I was looking for
new uses for current assets that I owned. A deal was tied-up
with my car delivering flowers and I was looking for something
to do with the lorry. I was networking with a Funeral Director
who made me aware of the growing trend of Alternative
Funerals, where vehicles other than a black hearse were used
to carry the coffin. This Funeral Director gave me my first
funeral when a lady was distraught at her husband having to go
in a black hearse and the concept of a blue and red lorry
appealed to her. It proved to be a very emotional experience
and just as I was recovering at home, wondering if funerals
really were the business for me, I got a phone call. The
Funeral Director rang to say that the lady had paid her bill
and left an additional sum as a thank you for me bringing some
colour to a dark day.
I applied distribution knowhow into loading and off-loading
the coffin and started to market my service to local Funeral
Directors. In my visits I found some interesting trends. Some
areas were more traditional, some areas involved less flowers
and there were some Funeral Directors who weren’t pleased to see me. I
developed my website
The initial customers were mainly former lorry drivers who
selected the Leyland Beaver for their final journey. However,
early on I realised that on most funerals there would be space
on the 21 foot long deck. I hit on the idea of creating themes
after watching a TV programme about the Terracotta Warriors;
stone statues that were placed around the late Chinese Emperor Xian.
If it was good enough for the Emperor Xian to have what
was deemed important to him around his coffin then it should
be good enough for John Smith. So I started offering to build
wooden models to replicate the vehicle the deceased had driven
or the cargo he had often pulled.
As time evolved Vintage Lorry Funerals became of interest to a
wider spectrum of people.
Top. A Liverpool away strip
shirt in front of goal-posts with a net in Trowbridge.
A builder's tools, supplied
by me, for a bricklayer's funeral in Nottingham.
An example of lots of flowers
on this rear display for this stock car racer in Orpington.
Most tributes are built from standard bases, however, the
'Kissing Lips' was down to the flair and creativity of the
Digger: You have catered for a
lot of different Theme requirements for Clients. Please tell
us more about the different options on offer?
David: Currently only around 40% of
my business is derived from former lorry drivers, with a
growing number of families who had no association with
lorries, choosing to use my services for a number of reasons,
Colour. The red & blue in my
lorry’s livery closely match the colours of the Union Jack and
this has led to military funerals. Football fans are
interested if their team’s colours are red & blue (West Ham,
Portsmouth). However, many are attracted more by the goal post
theme (Arsenal, Liverpool).
Tradesmen can have their
tools, normally supplied by me, positioned amongst the flowers
and examples to date include Builder, Plumber, Mechanic &
Lots of flowers. I build displays in which every
visible and sometimes there are lots of flowers, the record
being 96 Tributes loaded over 2 hours for a care home worker
An appropriate background for
special floral tributes.
Currently a ‘pillow’ can be carried in a bedstead, a ‘rugby
ball’ can be positioned on a green base in front of two white
posts and a ‘spanner’ can appear to be turning a nut.
Exposed to the elements. Some people prefer to work outdoors
with the sun on their back, with bird song around them. Why
should their final journey not be open to the elements?
Coffins too wide for the hearse. The growing trend of
weight people sometimes creates situations where the coffin is
too wide for the hearse. The handling techniques on the
Leyland Beaver can take any coffin of any size. The record so
far was a 47 stone man, whose coffin was 43 inches wide, and
his family were most pleased that no crane was involved as 10
people lifted him onto the lorry.
Another popular usage is using the deck as if it were a
stage. This is the most rapidly
growing sector and can take the following shapes:-
Minimalistic. The coffin appears like an
ocean going liner on
a calm sea.
Use of flags. A flag can be attached to the
signify that the sprit of the deceased is destined for their
Detailed model. Sometimes for an additional premium, a
detailed model is created, such as a mobile disco for a Disc
Jockey in Portsmouth.
Use of props. Occasionally I act like a Stage Manager at a
theatre, borrowing items from my contacts that could reflect
the deceased’s life. Examples of this include 1940s farm tools,
Victorian railway cart, 1950s milk churn, 1960s garage tools and
kegs from a brewery.
Digger: Why is Vintage, Retro
and Nostalgia such a big thing in people’s lives?
David: From my perspective my 1950s
Leyland Beaver takes people back to happier times. In the
1950s there was full employment, and British engineering still
led the rest of the world. It was a time before money spoiled
things, when footballers walked to the ground with the fans.
It was also a simpler life, less choices, only one flavour of
Digger: What would you say sets
a Vintage Lorry Funeral apart from a more traditional one?
David: Vintage Lorry Funerals
provides a unique ability to personalise a funeral. I tell
people that some folks may have had more than one go at a
wedding, that you only get one chance with a funeral. People
who have lots of flowers surely don’t want to see them damaged
by stuffing them inside a hearse, whose limited internal
height restricts the height of a coffin spray.
Top. A former Rugby League
Player's funeral in Newbury where an appropriate background
was created for the 'Rugby Ball'.
The Leyland Beaver can take
any coffin of any size, the heaviest person so far was this 47
stone man in Hounslow.
A minimalistic funeral in
Yeovil, where the use of the St. Andrews flag was because
every year the deceased spent his holiday in Scotland.
Digger: What advice would you
give to somebody thinking about a funeral with you?
David: The key advice is to contact
me, during 2011/2012, 43% of my funerals came from families
who contacted me whilst their loved one was still alive. From
knowledge of the type of flowers and the background of their
loved one, I will sketch out a proposed design and discuss the
involvement of a theme. I will also fix a price. Most Funeral
Directors add a margin to my price, some justified and some
not justified in my opinion. Some funeral arrangers have
risked disciplinary action by giving my details discreetly to
a family so that they can contact me direct.
Digger: Where are you customers
coming from and what customer feedback/comments do you
get from families and friends after funerals?
David: The area covered by my
nationwide service is currently bounded by Stranraer to
Southampton and Bideford to Billericay, and the Leyland Beaver
is thought to be the oldest working vehicle operating over
long distances. I take pictures for the family and can write
an obituary and place it in the trade press, so I have
extended contact with families and I have received some
amazing emails and ‘Thank You’ cards...
Widow in Grays: “Big thank you to you from myself and my
family for the wonderful service you provided, I am sure that
my husband would have been proud of his send off, which would
have not been possible without you. We have lovely memories of
the day which will help us through when we have dark days.”
Daughter in Wiltshire: “Once again thanks for all U R help we
kids R happy U went one step further saved Mum some serious
money U R kind and honest and we hope U R kept busy for many
years to come its hard to find honesty in this world today.”
Daughter in Southmead: “Thank you for the fantastic job you
did, we were chuffed to bits with your flower layout, what you
do is a true credit to yourself, thank you for showing some
much passion throughout and genuine care in getting things
Sometimes the whole display is
structured around a flag, as was the case for this Irishman
Middle: This Mobile Disco was created
for a Disc Jockey in Portsmouth.
Bottom: Taking the groom to his wedding
What are the best aspects of running Vintage Lorry Funerals?
David: I get great satisfaction helping people at their saddest
times, I still get Christmas cards from families who I helped
years ago. I work like a 1950s lorry driver making early
starts covering most of the distance to a funeral whilst most
people are still asleep, as the lorry only does 30 miles per
hour. Leaving in the dark, the roads are quiet, and I see wild
animals such as, barn owls, foxes, deer and badgers. I once
had a race with a pheasant which flew along side my driver
side window for over 100 yards. I could have touched it and I
think it was admiring itself in my wing mirror. It is also a
big thrill to be driving towards London when the sun rises.
Digger: What are your plans for
Vintage Lorry Funerals in the future?
David: My future plans involve me
continuing to improving displays with the next stage planned
for making ‘Heart’ tributes appear to float.
I hope, one day, to create the appropriate environment for one
of the crazy coffin range so:-
‘Viking Long Ship’ could be on a blue sea tied to a wooden
‘Orient Express’ could sit on a railway track.
‘Kite’ could be tethered to a green ‘grass’ area.
I also hope, one day, to carry two coffins side by side so
that people who have died together can travel together.
I intend to widen the other uses for my lorry which are
www.vintageclassic.co.uk and currently include
weddings (taking the groom to church, the example here is in
Minehead and was a surprise organised by the bride) and
birthday treats (providing an unexpected ride that brings
memories flooding back, was evident for Ken Agates who was
taken from Reading to Basingstoke. Ken passed away the year
after this picture was taken, however, his family still
cherish the memories he relayed at the Milestones Museum).
With more and more people travelling on my lorry getting
younger than me, I don’t look too far beyond the funeral I’m
currently working on.
A surprise treat for a Grandad who was
taken from Reading to Basingstoke and onto his birthday party
Bottom: A sheeted load theme in
Ponteland, Northumberland, for a former lorry driver who was
meticulous when sheeting a load to have all the dolly knots to
be of the same size and height off the ground and for the
ropes to cross in the centre of the rear.