When you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go – so you might as well go in style.
For people living in South East Northumberland – or, more exactly, dying in South East Northumberland – that could now mean making your last ever journey in this world aboard a preserved Routemaster bus.
North East-based Go As You Please Funerals – which has bases in Wallsend, Cramlington and Ashington – are offering what is perhaps the most unusual hearse currently in use in the UK today.
Unusual, yes, but oddly practical. As the company happily points out on its website, the Routemaster “…seats 55 people and is a fantastic way of keeping all the family and friends together and creates a more celebratory atmosphere.” This rather assumes the funeral you are organising might be cause for celebration, but you can sort of understand what they are getting at.
“The coffin can also travel on the bus,” adds the website, somewhat cautiously.
Now I know this might sound like rather an strange idea, but I happen to know that it has excellent precedents. George Shillibeer, the man credited with introducing the omnibus to England in 1829, apparently employed the self-same idea in Essex after he retired from the omnibus business a few years later to become an undertaker.
George’s revolutionary idea – basically, a van with lots of seats carrying passengers along a fixed route at certain times of the day for a fixed price - had become so popular that he was eventually driven out of business by his competitors. So he retired to Chigwell in Essex to become a funeral director, taking his horse-drawn omnibuses with him.
The story goes that he converted his erstwhile buses into hearses, creating at least one hybrid vehicle which was part hearse, part bus - a sort of passenger-carrying hearse – specifically to enable mourners to accompany their dear departed on their last journey to the churchyard.
Now, almost 200 years later, the idea seems to have returned, only this time in the form of a London Routemaster bus.
There’s no evidence that Shillibeer’s hybrid hearse ever really caught on, and its unlikely that Go As You Please will be leading a revolution of their own with their hearse-bus concept. But you can’t deny it has a certain bizarre appeal.
When London Transport first sat down to design the Routemaster, they had a clear purpose in mind but the design they eventually settled on has certainly evolved over the years – there were coach versions, extended body lengths, front-entrance versions and in later years open-toppers.
They probably never envisaged their bus ever being used as a hearse, though….
You can book the funeral bus at www.goasyouplease.com/alternative_transport.html
They also offer a motorcycle sidecar hearse, wicker coffins and conventional coffins in a variety of decorative styles – including Newcastle United stripes!