Austin's Blog


Coffin History

January 23rd, 2021    Author:

If you think about funerals, one of the first things that comes to mind is no doubt a coffin. Coffins have been around for thousands of years and nowadays they are available in various different materials and styles – from the traditional wood to the more eco-friendly willow or even cardboard. In fact, coffins have had a very interesting history from the start.

Where does the word ‘coffin’ come from?

The Old French word ‘cofin’ (meaning ‘basket’) officially entered the English language as ‘coffin’ in 1380. There is also a Modern French form ‘couffin’, which translates as ‘casket’. Whilst any box holding the deceased is called a coffin, a casket was originally a box used to store jewellery. It is thought that ‘casket’ was originally used as a euphemism by undertakers to steer away from the unpleasant images of a coffin.

When were coffins first used?

The earliest evidence of coffin remains ever found date back to 5000BC in China.  Among the remains were said to be a coffin belonging to a child and as many as 10 other wooden coffins at another site. Back then, the thickness of the coffin illustrated the level of nobility of the person inside; the double coffin consisted of an outer and inner coffin and the triple coffin had two outer and one inner coffins.

How were coffins originally made?

Traditionally, coffins were made as and when required by the village carpenter. So, the way it looked and how it was made would depend on his skills, as well as what materials were available at the time. If a poor person’s funeral had to be paid for by the parish then typically cheaper pine would be used, whereas someone very wealthy might have a yew or mahogany coffin finished with extravagant linings and decorations.

Victorian coffins

As you may well know, the Victorians were rather ‘obsessed’ with death. Funerals were big events and so there would be no expense spared on the coffin for wealthy Victorians – brass handles and luxurious burial shrouds were common. If a coffin was to be placed in a burial vault then they would usually consist of three layers, one of which would be lead, making the coffins extremely heavy.

In fact, back in 2014, a former Victorian coffin factory in Birmingham was reopened as a museum. The Newman Brothers made Winston Churchill’s coffin and when the factory was rediscovered in the last decade it was like a time warp with vintage tools and old newspapers still lying around.

More unusual coffins

Last year we blogged about ‘funeral customs from around the world’ and talked about the unusual coffins made in Ghana. Out there, funerals are often a much more colourful affair, a celebration of life rather than sorrow, and this is reflected in their coffin designs. They aspire to be buried in coffins that represent something special in their life – a hobby, their work or something symbolic to them.

Ghanaian artist Paa Joe says: “As humans, death is part of our life and everyone must go in style.” One of his coffins, modelled on a Mercedes Benz, is housed at The National Museum of Scotland. Carved from wood and painted white with silver, black and orange details, the coffin (made in 1998) features silver headlights, wing mirrors, an aerial and the trademark Mercedes-Benz badge.

Here in the UK, cardboard coffins are becoming increasingly popular and some follow a similar theme to the Ghanaian sense of humour. You can get ones with ‘return to sender’ stickers on, ones with your own photos on and themed ones from James Bond to Halloween!

The coffins we know today

Nowadays, most coffins are mass-produced, which does mean there are lots of options available to suit individual requirements. Here at Austin’s our Hertingfordbury, Kimpton and Amwell coffins are all worked on by hand by highly skilled craftsmen and we can provide beautiful ornaments too, including a: Gothic Cross, Sacred Heart, Crucifix, Masonic, Rose and Scottish Tassel.

For those who’d like a biodegradable coffin for their loved one we have a choice of two coffins. The Datchworth is handmade from English willow gathered in Lancashire. It is expertly fashioned by craftsmen using traditional skills and weaving techniques passed down through generations. The Bramfield is made with sturdy recycled paper in a green finish with natural rope handles.

To see our full range of coffins please visit:

Cremation Caskets

June 11th, 2018    Author:

With people opting for cremation services more than ever, there are now many different ways to keep a loved one’s ashes. We look at some of the options…

Interment and burial

The traditional storage for cremation ashes is an urn or casket that can be buried in a cemetery or perhaps in a natural burial ground. Today you can choose one made from a range of materials including banana leaf, seagrass, oak and bamboo. There’s even one made of corn starch that decomposes when it’s underground.

Water urns

If you’d like to have a water burial for your loved one, you can get biodegradable water urns made from natural materials such as recycled paper. They’re designed to float on the water for long enough to say your goodbyes before they gently sink.

Scatter tubes

Some people prefer to scatter ashes in a place that had a special meaning to the person they’ve lost – perhaps a favourite woodland walk or a clifftop overlooking the sea.  Scatter tubes come with special easy-to-scatter tabs and can be recycled or composted afterwards. They can also be personalised with a picture that celebrates your loved one.

For the home

When you want your loved one close by, there are urns and caskets that are made to fit into your home. You could have a pretty floral urn, a teardrop-shaped urn, a wooden heart, a box decorated with dried leaves or a fabric urn made from wool and embroidered with a name plate.

For the garden

Rain, snow, sun – urns and caskets made from natural materials will withstand the elements to stay with you as each season passes. These weather-friendly caskets come in a range of designs from pretty pebbles through to Buddha heads.


* At Austin’s, we have a range of urns and caskets that are provided by Forever Urns. You can view the collection here

Remembering those we have lost

November 10th, 2017    Author:
Silk flower display on Bier in Austins Stevenage

Silk flower display on Bier in Austins Stevenage

Every year on the second Sunday in November, people around the country remember those who lost their lives in the First World War. The annual Remembrance Sunday is a time to remind ourselves of the sacrifice they made for us and to honour their memory.

In London, a National Service of Remembrance takes place at The Cenotaph in Whitehall, which is attended by members of the Royal Family, representatives from the Government and Armed Forces as well as many war veterans. There are also services held throughout the country. As a mark of respect, people wear poppies and join in with a national two-minute silence at 11am.

While Remembrance Sunday is about honouring our war veterans, we should remember that reflecting on those who’ve gone before us can be done at any time. Spending a few quiet moments thinking about loved ones who are no longer with us can help us to feel reconnected with them.

During this reflective time you might want to be alone with your memories. Privately, you can let your emotions surface – it may be sadness that your loved one is gone, happiness at the joy they brought to your life, or most probably a mix of emotions. This is your time to acknowledge what they meant to you and allow yourself space to think about them.

Other people may prefer to join with family and friends to honour a loved one. You may wish to visit their resting place with flowers, or simply come together to share your thoughts and memories.

We all have busy lives, but there’s something wonderful about allowing ourselves time for reflection. It helps remind us that our loved ones may be gone but they are never forgotten.

Austins will be laying a wreath at the Stevenage Remembrance Service.

Photograph is of our funeral bier in our Stevenage office with a silk poppy floral display.

* For help and support planning a funeral or cremation, please contact us on 01438 316623.

Eco Friendly Funerals

June 22nd, 2016    Author:

At Austin’s we’re always interested to hear about eco-friendly alternatives to funerals so we were fascinated to learn about a novel new way of sending off loved ones.

One company in America take the deceased’s ashes and make special ‘reef balls’, which are then placed on the sea floor to mimic natural coral reef. It’s very unusual, to say the least, but it actually sounds like a lovely tribute. Loved ones are invited along to help create the balls and can personalise them by adding hand prints, written messages and small personal mementos in the environmentally-safe concrete that encases the ashes. The reef balls are then left on the seabed as a permanent environmental living legacy.

We may not be able to offer such a unique service at Austin’s, but we do like to ensure our customers have eco-friendly options. For those who’d like a biodegradable coffin for their loved one we have a choice of The Datchworth, which is handmade from English willow, or The Bramfield, made with sturdy recycled paper.

Meanwhile, at Harwood Park Crematorium there’s a real feeling of loved ones being returned to nature. Within the park, the sapling of a chestnut or woodland tree can be planted as a dedicated Living Memorial to the deceased, with their ashes scattered or buried alongside.

Whatever type of funeral you’d like, we’re here to help in any way we can. Please get in touch with us on 01438 815555.

The Bramfield The Datchworth