Behind the Scenes at Mortlake Crematorium 2

mortlake crematorium

Mortlake Crematorium in West London is a crematorium that has been recognised within the funeral industry as a beacon of best practice; as a crematorium with a difference.

We’ve been looking to visit a crematorium for a while here on The Last Word. It’s the ‘forgotten part’ of a funeral – after the coffin goes behind the curtains we move on. Turns out that there’s a lot more that goes on behind the scenes at a crematorium, however, as we found out when we visited Mortlake Crematorium on a rainy Wednesday in August.

Mortlake Crematorium has been garnished with awards and nominations from within the industry and is a real collector’s item among crematoria watchers in the UK, having not raised its fees for the past three years running. A cremation service at Mortlake costs £575, with the nationwide average well above that figure at £716, and the London average sitting at £708, as we reported in May.

We met with Natasha Bradshaw, superintendent of the crematorium, to get a feel for what it is that they do differently to other crematoria in the UK.

Find funeral directors in Richmond and Hammersmith & Fulham.

Mortlake crematorium

Editor’s note: There has been some disagreement over the correct plural of the word ‘octopus.’ We have gone for ‘octopi,’ though we are aware that ‘octopuses’ is also considered valid.


An outsider might ask, aren’t all crematoria just the same? What more goes into it that means you can win an award for the work that you do?

If I was to compare us to other crematoria, I’d say it’s the whole feeling you have when you get here. It’s the beautiful grounds – did you see the lavender? The building…it’s also the sense that everyone here cares, from Sam the gardener, Jordan his apprentice, Lisa on reception; it’s all looked after, and it’s more than just a job to us here. That’s why everyone loves coming here – funeral directors and families.

Most people don’t have anything to compare a crematorium to. We recently had a gentleman who actually went to eight different ones and in the end chose us, despite not being from around here. He had a Saturday service at 3.00 pm for 250 people, and it all went well. Other places wouldn’t do a Saturday afternoon, and that’s where we’re different. We care for people, and I think that comes across.

One thing I always disliked in most crematoria is the ashes container…it just did not feel right giving a person back in a ‘cardboard box’ or ‘sweetie jar.’ Ours are these gorgeous boxes, which we’ve designed ourselves, tied up with a ribbon, with the ashes in a little parcel, the cremation certificates and so on in them. Actually people often keep the boxes and keep all the keepsakes, photos and memories of that person in them. I think that’s a nice touch, and something which we do differently.

We take care to recycle metals, and we’re working on pacemakers too. High grade surgical metals can be recycled for a lot of money. We’re part of the ICCM’s scheme which sends all proceeds to charities, like SANDs and SOBS. To date the scheme has raised £4,000,000, so this is a scheme which we’re proud to contribute to.

And there’s another thing that makes Mortlake Crematorium different to most other crematoria – we are a public service, and so we’re not thinking about shareholder profits, we’re thinking about how best we can serve the local community.

So you’ve acquired a reputation for repeatedly going above and beyond?

I would say that we have done, though it’s also down to the peaceful environment that we have here. Recently we had a funeral where the funeral arranger knows about my dog Noodles, she asked if they could borrow her for the service as the family were animal lovers, and I think that was appreciated. People know that we have doves that children can feed, a garden where children can jump on the stepping stone and we don’t mind when they throw stones into the pond…people like coming here!

How many staff do you have here, and is it a lot of work to maintain that standard?

There’s ten of us. Sam, Phil & Jordan who look after the grounds, Gary who’s been here for over 30 years, Steve who won crematorium attendant of the year last year, Richard who’s up for the same award this year, Marian the Deputy, Lisa, Andrea, & me. Oh, and the dog and the doves – they’re part timers!

White doves at Mortlake crematorium

You must be kept pretty busy between ten of you!

We do approximately 2,400 funerals a year in our one chapel. As well as that we do a lot of work in the community too, which we think is very important. We have Father’s Day and Mother’s Day services here, the Wave of Light for Baby Loss Awareness Week, and we link up with the local primary school and deliver Easter eggs to the Royal Hospital and other nursing homes…that’s lovely as the older people love the children and the chocolate. The local funeral directors and visitors donate the eggs, a local black cab driver (well my husband Pat) and funeral directors will drive the children from the school to nursing homes.

Just yesterday we said goodbye to Baby Luke. There’s an appeal that we’re getting behind, making crochet octopi for premature babies (their little hands can grab onto the tentacles). There’s a big day we’ve organised for Saturday 30th September to make more octopi. We’ve had a lot of donations of wool, needles and stuffing from funeral directors – so I guess although there’s only ten of us, we can rely on a lot of support from within our community; and that’s as much from local communities and funeral directors as it is from people who have used Mortlake for a cremation.

You’re managed by a trust?

It’s quite complex. There is an Act of Parliament, and we are managed by a Board of elected members from the four local authorities which border Mortlake: Hammersmith & Fulham, Kensington & Chelsea, Richmond and Ealing.  The Board are very supportive of the work we do.

You serve quite a large area then?

Yes, and we have good relationships with funeral directors from Hounslow to Fulham, and further beyond, all over West London really.

At Beyond, we compile an annual cremation and burial cost index. You guys are one of the few that keep their prices low year on year. How do you manage that?

Good management of course! (Laughs) Well it’s a variety of factors. We’ve not raised our prices for the third year running now and mostly it comes down to continuously maintaining and replacing the equipment and modernising facilities.  A lot of crematoria have not done this, and the longer you leave it the more expensive and difficult it is to catch up.  We are not a private company, so we are not paying out huge dividends to people – we are just focusing on providing the best possible service, and as I said, people do keep coming back to us.

As well as the standard price of £575, we also have an early morning service time at £365. ‘Direct cremation’ is becoming more popular around the country, people don’t have to have a service here, but all coffins will be brought through our chapel, as we feel that everyone deserves a dignified funeral and cost shouldn’t be a preventative factor.

Do you often have people coming to you directly, rather than through a funeral director?

It does happen, yes. I think the majority of people do still prefer to engage a funeral director, but some people will want to take control of the funeral arrangements themselves, for whatever reason. Often it will be parents whose baby has died under 24 weeks of gestation.

When someone does call us, all of our staff are experienced and know what questions they need to ask. We can figure out where they’re trying to get to with the funeral, and then suggest how they might do that. We might suggest using a funeral director – they do come in all shapes and sizes, and there might be one that we know can deliver to the family what they’re looking for.

We will suggest religious ministers, or humanist celebrants, florists and so on depending on what they want.

Flowers at Mortlake crematorium

It’s interesting how much you guys get involved in the funeral arrangements. There’s almost some overlap with the role a funeral director would traditionally carry out.

We get involved more when someone comes to us directly, or when someone is looking for a really personal service. We know the space and its limitations, so we can help with the planning of the service. Traditional services are more fixed, whereas with the personal ones it’s always better I think if we get involved a little more.

Are you seeing more personal funeral services?

It’s difficult to say. The biggest change I’ve seen is music only services, with no talking. That’s becoming more popular. Music carries a lot of emotion, often more than words can get across and when there is no need for words, it can be very moving.

Is there anything you wouldn’t allow in the crematorium?

We’re generally pretty easy going and try to enable people to have the farewell that they want. We only really wouldn’t allow anything illegal, anything that would damage the building, or anything that would impact on another family. We’re very wary of not just saying no though, we always try and give a reason why, and suggest an alternative. For example, people often want everyone to have a candle, and the wax wrecks the carpet. We will say no, but suggest glass lanterns or fairy lights.

We once had the cremation of a dog walker here, and she had a lot of people who wanted to come who all wanted to bring their dogs into the chapel, which we obviously couldn’t allow! In the end, we had the dogs do a guard of honour, and the hearse drove past them all sitting obediently, which worked out really well.

The grounds and building here are beautiful as you said, it’s definitely a peaceful environment. How much work has gone into it?

A lot! About seven years ago when I first came here the place was full of trees. I wanted to change the gardens dramatically and people were shocked. Don’t get me wrong – trees are lovely, but they can be quite imposing. I wanted to bring more light and colour into the space. So we now have the lavender roundabout with bedding, herbaceous border by the entrance, and gorgeous children’s garden.

The children’s garden has the pond and a memorial tree for young babies, where people can have a personalised leaf on. We like to think of the whole grounds as a memorial to people, rather than selling individual plaques and so on, which is why you won’t see plaques in the rose beds here.

One feature which we’re very proud of here is the interactive story in the children’s garden. We give people these QR codes, which they can scan and go over to the garden to listen to. It’s a story about a water bug that leaves the pond and becomes a dragonfly, and when he comes out he wants to tell the others what happens when they leave the pond, but he can’t, because he’s no longer a water bug. It’s a way of explaining death to a child (actually adults often use this, and find some meaning in it) which can be both religious and non-religious.

Memorial tree at Mortlake crematorium

I’m often struck by how positive people in the funeral industry seem to be, despite witnessing tragedy on a daily basis. What’s your secret at Mortlake?

We are a positive bunch here. It’s three things I think. First and foremost, we all support each other, and everything uttered in this crematorium is fully confidential. If someone’s having a tough time, they know that they can speak to anybody here in the knowledge that this won’t go any further and they will be met with sympathy. We all know that the job has certain pressures, and that sometimes there’s just no way that you can rationalise the losses that families have to bear. We all support each other here, and we will support anybody else that comes here.

The second thing is a bit more simple I guess…we eat a lot. There’s always someone baking a cake and bringing it in!

Finally, it’s a case where people like their jobs here, because they know that they can do it properly. I would say that if you speak to anyone who’s stressed at work, whatever job and at whatever level, it’s because they haven’t got what they need to do the job properly.

Resomation, and chemical cremation seem to be taking off a lot more in the States, and are getting some discussion here in the UK. Do you see crematoria in the future becoming ‘resomatoria?’

It wouldn’t be financially viable at this point in time for us – what you can do with a body is very tightly restricted and legally controlled. Even after the law changes and resomation is legally permitted, it will take some time I think for the infrastructure here in the UK to adapt, and it will only happen if the demand for it is high enough.

Natasha, thanks for your time!

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  1. A lovely blog you have here. I’m a Funeral Videographer who works all around the UK and I agree that Mortlake Crematorium are great to work with. I’ve covered several funerals in 2017 at Mortlake Crematorium and I’m always thrilled with how accomodating the team is there. Keep up the good work.

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Behind the Scenes at Scattering Ashes 0

The team from Scattering Ashes hold up a mini Viking funeral boat.

With cremations now accounting for an impressive 76% of all funerals in the UK, more and more families are looking for creative – or even spectacular – things to do with their loved one’s ashes.

That’s where Scattering Ashes come in. Founded in 2009 by Richard Martin, this incredibly comprehensive site aims to help its visitors find the perfect way to say goodbye, whether that be a peaceful seaside scattering or going out with a bang in an ambitious firework display.

This month, we caught up with Richard to talk about scattering techniques, Viking funerals – and why you don’t want to leave ashes at Jane Austen’s house.

Hi Richard! Thanks for the interview. How did Scattering Ashes come to be?

Ashes being scattered from a vintage wartime Tiger Moth
Richard and the team can help you scatter ashes from a vintage wartime Tiger Moth plane, among other things.

I worked for the Environment Agency and DEFRA for many years, and it was looking like it might be time to change career. So, I thought, ‘What would I like to do?’

I’d scattered my dad’s ashes years before, and felt that we were left a bit at sea because the funeral directors didn’t have any information. We scattered his ashes at his golf course, and we weren’t made to feel very welcome when we went there –  and we certainly weren’t made to feel welcome when we wanted to go back. It all just felt a bit unsatisfactory.

So, I had the idea that perhaps I could help people by providing information about scattering ashes, because there was nothing out there online. I started blogging and then the business grew from there.

A Viking Longboat urn from Scattering Ashes
The Viking longboat urn from Scattering Ashes actually floats.

What’s your favourite scattering method on the site at the moment?

One thing that seems to have hit a chord with people is the Viking boat.

We do an almost metre-long Viking boat that holds a full set of ashes. You can set it afloat, set it on fire, and it goes up in a blaze of glory. We’ve tested them, and they’re pretty cool, I have to say. When we’ve seen them set sail, they’ve looked amazing! I quite like the fireworks too.

Why do you think people are looking for more exciting things to do with ashes now?

I think society has become more accepting of death. I also think that the old religious practices don’t suit as many people these days – maybe you don’t necessarily want a vicar speaking at your funeral because he never really knew you, and you’re not religious in the first place. And more people are thinking, ‘Well, actually, I don’t want that sort of faux-Victoriana, I want a bit more of a celebratory approach to my life’.

Ashes are scattered directly into someone's face in this scene from The Big Lebowski.
That scene from The Big Lebowski.

You run courses on scattering ashes for funeral directors. Do you have any top tips for a successful scattering?

Mind the wind is my main one.

There’s that scene in The Big Lebowski.

Exactly. Another is to be safe: a chap died last year scattering ashes after he got washed off shore in Cornwall, and the year before that a couple died in Spain doing it, and the year before that a lady fell off a cliff doing it in Ireland. Don’t go to these extreme places, because you’re putting yourself in danger.

A biodegradable water urn shaped like a turtle
This floating turtle urn from Scattering Ashes is completely biodegradable.

The third thing is probably to be aware of the amount of ashes. People tend to think it’s going to be light. In movies, like The Big Lebowski for example, there’s literally a few handfuls. But in reality, there’s something like six pounds of ashes.

So, people often end up scattering for quite a while, then they upend the urn and get this little conical pile of ashes, and it looks odd. Then they realise, ‘Oh god, we’ve got nothing to move it around with,’ and they’re using their feet, and then they go, ‘This is undignified.’

But with a bit of thought, you can make it quite a poignant, memorable ceremony, which is what we try to educate people about.

You keep a (really very comprehensive) record of places that allow scattering – do people often say no?

More and more often, now. When we first started a lot of football clubs were saying yes, and now many say no. Some are trying to cater for it with memorial gardens instead: they realise the demand, but they don’t want it impacting the pitch.

The more people scatter ashes in one place, the more troublesome they find it?

Jane Austen's house in Chawton
Jane Austen’s house in Chawton, where visitors have been asked to stop secretly scattering ashes. Image by Joaotg, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Absolutely. Two particular places come to mind. One is the top of Ben Nevis: a lot of Scots will have their ashes scattered at the top of Ben Nevis. The ecosystem up there is relatively fragile – mosses and lichens. It might look barren, but it’s not.

Ashes are rich in calcium and phosphorus, so when you put a lot of ashes there, you’re changing the ecology of the place. So, the Mountaineering Council of Scotland has asked people to stop scattering at the summit.

They had to put a press release out for Jane Austen’s house because people were sneaking over the wall at night and upending the urns on the weekend. The gardener might come back on Monday morning and find three piles of ashes that had been dumped, and of course, a rose bed can only take so much.

A panoramic view from Ben Nevis, where people are no longer supposed to scatter ashes.
The view from Ben Nevis. Image by Leo Hoogendijk courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

You won Best Bereavement Resource at the Good Funeral Awards in 2015 – what’s your secret?

Honesty, really. I try not to be partisan, and to look at both sides and just use the facts. I don’t have any particular drum to beat about this; I think people should have the right to choose what they do with ashes, as long as it doesn’t impact others. Also, it’s pretty comprehensive: I’ve phoned up and emailed virtually everyone. There must be getting on to 800 posts on there now.

Impressive! And what’s next for Scattering Ashes?

We’re offering training courses for funeral directors and crematoria staff and celebrants, which is new. We’ll also be increasing our trade offer, putting wholesale options on the site. And we now have a sister site here called My Pet’s Ashes, which offers similar services for pet owners, because they’re part of the family too.

If you’d like to find out more about Scattering Ashes, head on over to the site at And if you have your own ash scattering story to tell, we’d love to hear it! Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

Meet the Maker: Cremation Glass Jewellery 1

Glassmaker Kenny Scott of Ash Glass Design.

Pendant with flecks and swirls in the glass made from the ashes of someone who has died

What do you see when you look at this pendant? To the untrained eye, it might look like … a pendant. But to those in the know, it’s something unusual, and completely unique: those flecks and swirls in the glass are made from the ashes of someone who has died.

In fact, the necklace is just one item in a range of mourning jewellery and sculpture created by glassmaker Kenny Scott and his team at Ash Glass Design. Based in the picturesque village of Clovenfords in the Scottish Borders, Kenny and co. craft bespoke cremation glass jewellery for families who want a subtle way to carry their loved one’s ashes with them.

So, how does one become a cremation glassmaker, exactly, and how is cremation glass actually made? To find out more about this relatively new answer to the question of what to do with ashes, we had a chat with Kenny …


How did Ash Glass Design get started?

Kenny Scott and his team at Ash Glass DesignKenny began his career at the tender age of 16, leaving school to take on a five-year apprenticeship in making glass from scratch. 20 years later, he was creating glasswork for museums and clients when he received an unusual request:

“One of my friends who’s a funeral director approached me and asked if I would make a memorial pendant for someone using ashes”, Kenny told Beyond. While at first Kenny wasn’t sure (he describes it as “a wee bit of a Marmite moment”) the family was so pleased with the result that he immediately realised that he wanted to do it again.

“After I made the pendant and met the family, it was the best feeling I’ve ever had when making something for someone”, Kenny explained. “They were so happy, and it’s such a precious thing that you’re making for them, that I thought, ‘Oh, I really like doing this.’

“Basically, that was it: I put a wee range together, and from there it’s kind of grown. I love doing it.”

“Nobody would know what it was other than them, and I think that’s the beauty of it.”

Why do people like cremation jewellery?

CreAsh Glass Design's cremation glass mourning ringmation jewellery isn’t for everyone ­– but while some find the concept morbid, others like the idea of keeping a loved one close in a subtle way. “I speak to all the customers, and I think for them the nicest thing is the fact that they can have their loved one with them all the time, and it’s not in your face. It doesn’t have a big sign saying what it is – it’s just a lovely piece of jewellery”, Kenny said.

“Nobody would know what it was other than them, and I think that’s the beauty of it. Everybody says that they get so much comfort out of having it.”

In Ash Glass Design’s range, rings are the most popular option: “Somebody said to me, it’s like they’re still holding my hand.

“We do lots for weddings as well, my goodness. For somebody who has maybe lost a parent, it’s like [their loved one] can be there on their wedding day. It’s a lovely way to have them with you.”

“There’s always something you want to try and create differently and try and adapt.”

How is cremation glass jewellery made?

Making cremation jewelleryThe process of making cremation glass jewellery is long and somewhat delicate, with great care taken to make sure the right ashes (“labelled, bagged, boxed, bagged again”, Kenny reports) are used.

At Ash Glass Design, everything is made in-house. After a discussion with the family about the design, Kenny melts their required colour of glass to make a base. He then carefully adds the ashes before sealing it over with clear glass to make a perfect finished surface.

After some time spent in the kiln – it takes a day and a half to gradually cool the hot glass down – the glass is polished down with diamond tools and set into the gold or silver using a traditional technique. Any ashes left over are returned to the family along with the finished piece.

“You have to know the procedures for cooling glass down, how to heat it up, how compatible it is with other materials, so it’s quite a wee science on its own,” Kenny said, adding that “there’s always something you want to try and create differently and try and adapt. You’re always making new designs as well, to stretch the boundaries a bit.”

“I still get phone calls three or four months down the road from some of my customers saying how happy they are, and what it means to them”

Do you take requests?

Because Ash Glass Design is a small company (Kenny, his wife Emma and “amazing” goldsmith Joanna) the team are able to take requests to make each piece of glass unique: “If somebody wants a bespoke colour in their jewellery, we never charge any extra … We do what we can to help folk get what they want. If [a customer] wants something to be adapted somehow, then we look into it for them”, Kenny explained.

“Sometimes it’s not as feasible as they might think initially, but we can talk them through it, and find the best option for them.”

Customers appreciate this personal service: “I still get phone calls three or four months down the road from some of my customers saying how happy they are, and what it means to them. Even a couple of years down the road, we still get them phoning back, asking how we are. It’s lovely.”

Want to find out more about Ash Glass Design? Check out their website,, give the team a ring on 01896 850447, or contact Kenny at [email protected].

About mourning jewellery …

A Victorian mourning ring with hair sealed into the gold.
A Victorian mourning ring with hair sealed into the gold. Image by Charles J Sharp, via Wikimedia Commons.

Mourning jewellery dates back as far as the 1600s, when stern memento mori-themed rings (‘remember that you must die’) were gradually overtaken by more personal tokens of grief. Examples from the British Museum demonstrate how gruff messages like “learn to dye” were replaced by kinder tributes, such as “not lost but gone before” and “not dead but sleepeth”.

At its peak in the Victorian era, mourning jewellery was worn as part of a strict dress code for the bereaved. Mourning rings were joined by broaches and lockets, and were often made with jet (a precious stone that, being black, was thought to be mourning period-appropriate). Many contained a lock of the hair from the person who had died, or a miniature portrait.

Popularity eventually declined as life expectancy increased – by World War One, mourning jewellery was out of vogue. But the desire shared by bereaved families for physical mementos of their loved ones never really went away.

Now, the rise in cremation – 70% of people in the UK choose it over burial – and increasing openness about death are leading to a rise in interest, with companies like Ash Glass Design offering a more contemporary take.