Our Family History

It was in 1858 that the cabinet making and furniture broking business established by Leonard Wathall on Siddall’s Lane decided to diversify into funerals. Find out more about the Wathall’s family history.

George Wathall, Leonard’s son, diversified into funerals following the death of this young son Anthony, aged 2. Most family funeral directors originated from either joiners as they could make the coffins, or builders, as they had a vehicle.

Sadly in 1898, George passed away, just 40 years after establishing the business, leaving his son William Henry, Anthony’s twin, to take over the firm. William Henry’s two sons Will and Harry eventually joined the firm – learning from their father.  The three of them ran the business through the trials of the First World War until Harry was drafted into service.

Harry was later captured in France and held as a prisoner of war. His brother, Will, remained behind to run the family business due to the ill health of himself and his father at that time. The horses were also taken to help with the war effort, leaving the firm with the minimum needed to conduct the funerals.

In 1918, William Henry passed away aged 61, leaving Will and Harry to take over the family business. Will and Harry, who had already lived through one World War, were about to live through the second.

During WW2, our premises on Abbey Street in Derby were turned into a temporary mortuary and the coffin workshop at Macklin Street was used to store many pre-made coffins – something which was quite unusual at the time as each coffin was handmade to order.

Due to the grim reality of the war, it was thought that Derby would be targeted for its role in manufacturing weapons and war machinery. Before the 1930’s, horse drawn was the preferred choice for funeral transport, until the introduction of the first motorised hearse.

Leading the Way

Wathall’s was the first funeral directors in the area to get a motorised hearse and still to this day has a copy of the original design sheet that was used for the aesthetics of the car, which the team had a great amount of input in. As cars became more popular, the horses were phased out, being replaced by motorised hearses.

In 1952, Harry’s son, Bill, joined the firm aged 20. Bill had just completed his national service where he had travelled to Germany and worked as part of the recovery effort bringing soldiers and supplies back to England.

During the 1970’s, Harry and Will decided to take a backseat in the running of the family business, but never actually retired. Harry passed away in 1977 and his brother Will passed just two years later, leaving Bill, the fourth generation, to take care of the business.

Bill saw many changes throughout his career, including buying ready-made coffins and the removal of woodwork machinery in the late 1980’s. Although we don’t make our own coffins anymore, they are still finished on premise with lining, trim, handles and a personalised nameplate.

In 1985, Helen Wathall joined the firm as the 5th generation. Helen initially came to assist with the admin and accounts but soon trained to become a funeral arranger and conductor.

Helen’s career is littered with success in the funeral industry. Helen has won many awards. In 2002 she was appointed as the first female president of The Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors, representing over 800 independent funeral directors in the UK at the time.

In 1995, Wathall’s, through their funeral plan provider, Golden Charter, won the National Funeral Planner of the Year award, beating over 2000 other funeral directors, and has since been recognised as the regional winner multiple times.

Sadly, in 1995, Bill Wathall passed away. After his death, Helen took over as Company Secretary and later took on the role of Managing Director. Bill was liked by all who knew him and is remembered fondly for his inspiring talks and his commitment to the funeral industry.

In 2015, Helen was appointed a chair on the board of directors at Golden Charter as a funeral director representative. She was the first female to be appointed on the board in the company’s history.

In 2019, Helen was also awarded an MBE by HRH Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, in the New Year’s Honours list for her services to business and the community of Derbyshire.


In 2007, Wathall’s expanded by opening a new branch in Ashbourne, before which Wathall’s was the largest single site independent funeral directors in the country.

And the business continued to expand from then on. In 2016 Wathall’s opened two new branches, one in Borrowash and a second in Alvaston. 2019 saw the opening of the Burton branch.

In 2008, Wathall’s turned 150 years old. To mark this achievement, Wathall’s held its first memorial service, offering an opportunity for all the families who have used Wathall’s services during the year to remember those they have lost. This is now an annual event and

raises around £1000 a year for a local chosen charity.

In 2014, Wathall’s branched out into its own bereavement support service. Dandelions Bereavement Support has helped many people during the darkest days of bereavement.

At the beginning of 2015, Wathall’s held its first Dandelions Grief Journey Programme, designed to equip those grieving with the tools and knowledge to better manage their grief and day to day life after a bereavement.

In 2019, Wathall’s began to incorporate a branded Grief Journal into the programme, helping those suffering to note down their thoughts and feelings in order to process them.

Wathall’s also began to offer corporate bereavement support to businesses and charities.

In the summer of 2016, Helen was joined by her two daughters, Bec and Charlotte, the 6th generation of the family to join the business.

Bec joined the company as Helen’s Personal Assistant, but her role quickly developed into managing the website, social media and company literature. In 2019, Bec became the Business Development Manager and now works on developing new opportunities and community support as well as picking up all previous responsibilities.

Charlotte trained as a Funeral Arranger aged just 18 and helped support the opening of the larger Alvaston branch. Not before long, Charlotte went on to train in the processing of pre-paid funeral plans. In 2018, Charlotte became the Later Life Planning Advisor and now heads up pre-paid funeral plans, working to quickly implement processes and improve customer service.

In 2018, Bec and Charlotte became members of SAIF Next Generation – a group of forward-thinking, next generation professionals. The unique initiative supports the next generation of the funeral profession.

As times have changed, the firm has found itself arranging both traditional and non-traditional funerals, catering for a wide variety of requests. In 2017, Wathall’s became a Derby County FC Preferred Partner, and have created a bespoke package of funeral options for Derby County supporters.

And in 2019, Wathall’s partnered with The Salvation Army to offer a Bereavement Textile Collection Service, providing donation bags and hassle-free collections of any unwanted possessions.

In addition to funerals, Wathall’s are also able to provide long lasting memorials through working with stonemason company, Art Stone Memorials.

Since 1858, loyal and dedicated staff have supported the family business and today there are over 30 members of staff providing the traditional, dignified and professional quality of service, which the people of Derby and the surrounding areas have come to expect.

Wathall’s is incredibly proud of the success the business has achieved over the years. Below are some of the fantastic awards the team has been lucky enough to win:

  • Golden Charter Funeral Planner of the Year Winner 1995
  • Derby Telegraph Business Awards 2016 Contribution to the Community Finalist
  • Derby Telegraph Business Awards 2017 Contribution to the Community Winner
  • Derby Telegraph Business Awards 2018 Family Business Finalist
  • Institute of Directors Midlands 2018 Corporate Social Responsibility Winner
  • Institute of Directors Midlands 2018 Family Business Highly Commended
  • East Midlands Chamber Enterprising Women’s Awards 2018 Social Commitment Winner
  • East Midlands Business Masters 2019 Ambassador Winner
  • East Midlands Chamber 2020 Contribution to the Community Finalist

Help & Advice

Arranging a funeral is a very personal and emotional time. Please find information in this section that will help guide you through the process. If you need immediate help, please call 01332 345268. We are here for you 24/7.

Help & Advice

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