2 Aug 2018

Funeral Hiring of the Sarpedon

In mid November last year (2012) I received a telephone call from a perspective client who asked, “do you do funerals?” My initial response would have been to say no, but I did ask him to elaborate a little more as I was not quite sure what he had in mind. He said “I would like to bring the casket onboard and go up the river” I asked, “do you mean a casket containing ashes onboard to take somewhere?”, “No he replied, “I mean a full-sized casket”. “Do you mean a coffin” I asked. He replied “yes”. I asked him if he had discussed this possibility with his undertakers, to which he replied “yes”. I explained that I would need to discuss the plans with his undertakers, and subject to everything being practical and legal, I would be prepared to be of service to him. He asked what sort of boat we would offer him. I told him one of our traditional Thames Tourist passenger boats.

I established that he lived in West London, and was available to make an immediate trip to Westminster Pier to view the potential boat (the “Sarpedon”) that I was considering using to undertake the proposed trip should it come to fruition. I telephoned the Master of the “Sarpedon” to advise him of the likelihood of a client turning up at Westminster Pier to view the boat as the vessel was due there to start its first scheduled trip down to Greenwich. About three quarters of an hour after my call to the “Sarpedon” I received a call from the Master to say that a gentleman had arrived, was delighted with what he saw and was now on his way to my office at Blackfriars Pier. Just a short time later the bell rang, my potential client had arrived. I opened the door and was confronted by a gentleman, probably around fifty years of age, dressed in a red velvet suit, red corduroy shoes, a red and white baseball cap, with a backpack slung over his shoulder. Somehow, not quite what I was expecting. He introduced himself and started to describe what he had in mind.

His mother (the occupant of the coffin) had passed away some six weeks or so ago, in September, he told me. This attempt to lay his mother to rest was his third try. It seems his mother was fascinated by the River Thames and had requested that on her passing she would be given that last possible Thames river cruise. I asked when he anticipated making the “cruise” and was told “in three days” time, subject to certain conditions prevailing at the Home Office”. It appears that he had applied to have his mother interned in a grave in North West London Cemetery which already had two people buried there. It seems that the grave was only suitable for two people, and to accommodate a third person, the two coffinswould have to be temporally exhumed, the grave dug deeper and the two original coffins placed back into the deeper grave before his mother could be placed in the grave.

Permission to exhume the bodies, be it only for a few hours, needed Home Office permission, and this had taken time resulting in a third date being set for mother to be laid to rest. Truly, I felt sorry for the man and reassured him that I would do everything possible in order to fulfil his promise to his mother within the three-day period he had available. I did advise him once again that I needed to speak to his undertakers by no later than the next day. He assured me that would be a mere formality as they were exceptional in their capabilities, they being the “Royal Undertakers”. I did receive a call from the undertakers, (Leversons) the following morning and explained the situation regarding the tide level, the gradient of the brow, and access to the boat with the coffin. They were exceptional. Within an hour a representative arrived at the pier, and the potential problems were discussed and smoothed out.

My client had now rung to ask if he could invite a musician to accompany him onboard on the day of the cruise along with the minimal number of mourners that he was expecting to attend on the day. I was subsequently contacted by an electric harpist that had been invited to attend. On the morning of the cruise, I awaited the arrival of the hearse with just one accompanying limousine. Mother’s coffin was placed on a very practical trolley and majestically wheeled down the brow, then boldly but gracefully carried onboard the “Sarpedon”. The boat departed from the pier to make a single round trip from Blackfriars up through Westminster Bridge to pass the Houses of Parliament then to turn to go down to pass the Tower of London, before returning to Blackfriars Pier. Being Thames Watermen and doing something exceptional, there are occasions when humorous opportunities occur, this one being no exception. From the bridge of the departing “Sarpedon”, the resounding voice of the Captain was clearly heard to ask if a commentary had been requested as it was not on his orders.

Whilst the son, was busily playing his cello accompanied by the music of his female harpist, the “Sarpedon” gracefully eased off into the mid-stream of the river to fulfil his mother’s “last request”. The undertakers’ representative that had remained at the pier with me had received a message from the cemetery to confirm that the grave had now been dug, the two original occupants had been replaced in the grave and everything was now ready to accept the third coffin.

Whilst the undertakers’ rep and I awaited the return of “Sarpedon” he explained that after mother had been replaced back into the hearse, they were to undergo a brief tour of Central London, to go off west along Victoria Embankment, up Northumberland Avenue to turn into The Mall to pass Buckingham Palace, then Westminster Abbey to turn left to pass east-bound along Victoria Embankment again, to pass Blackfriars Pier once again, up into Upper Thames Street, before eventually turning left to head back to pass St. Paul’s Cathedral to head into Fleet Street for a final brief service at St Brides Church before heading off across to the cemetery in North West London, where a much-loved mother was to be placed at rest by a devoted son.

I felt it was an honour to assist someone who was so dedicated to following the express wishes of his mother to the extreme end.



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