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How were coffins originally made?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:

Personalising Your Own Funeral

March 18th, 2019    Author:

Personalising your own funeral

There are lots of initiatives around to help people start talking about death, and part of that conversation is funerals. Most people know whether they want to be buried or cremated, but some have whole sections of their funeral planned out; from the music they want played to what they want people to wear.

Who remembers the scene from Love Actually where Liam Neeson’s character is talking about his late wife’s funeral requests, one of which was he should take Claudia Schiffer as his date?! She also chose photos of herself to be shown on screen while ‘Bye bye baby’ by the Bay City Rollers played out as her coffin left the church.


Your wishes

We fully support people wanting to have a say in their own funeral. It’s a way to let your loved ones know how you want to be remembered on the day; perhaps by planning things they wouldn’t think to do in their time of grief.

Personalising a funeral doesn’t have to cost the earth – there are lots of little things you can do, even just having your photo displayed on top of the coffin.

Just remember, while a bit of pre-planning can take a lot of pressure off your loved ones when the time comes, it’s nice for them to be able to add their own touches to express how much you meant to them, so perhaps don’t try and plan every last detail.

Our Little Green Book could be a good starting point for you to think about the various decisions that need to be made. You can find it at:


First things first

Typically you would put big decisions about your death in your will. When it comes to your funeral, the most important questions your loved ones should know the answers to are:

  • Do you wish to be buried or cremated?
  • Do you prefer a specific funeral home?
  • Where do you want to be buried or your ashes scattered?
  • Do you want a religious ceremony, or one at a crematorium or woodland site etc.?


Personal touches

Flowers or donations: Do you want a particular type of flower, or perhaps a special arrangement for your coffin? If you have been in a trade, you might want an arrangement made out of tools instead. Alternatively, do you have a charity close to your heart that you wish people to donate to rather than bring flowers?

Coffin: There are many different types of coffin from traditional wood to wicker, but it’s not all about the material. Did you see in the news recently that one dedicated primary teacher from Bath had her coffin decorated in her pupils’ drawings?

Transport: While it can sometimes be overlooked, the transport you choose can be hugely symbolic of your life. For instance, the families of bikers often ask for fellow bikers to accompany the coffin in a motorcycle procession. Other symbolic modes of transport include VW campervans, vintage lorries and traditional horse and carriage.

Eulogy: You can write your own eulogy in a traditional style, or perhaps as a poem. You could also select your own readings and even ask someone close to you to read them, if they are comfortable doing so.

Music: For some people, music is a huge influencer in their lives. If you have a special song, or an artist you love, or have come across something that sums up you and your life, then the music you choose can add a very special touch.

Photos: You may want to choose some photos of yourself for the order of service, or to be on display at the church or crematorium. We are the only funeral director in the UK to create unique films and photo slideshows that can be played during a service and kept by friends and family afterwards.


Funeral plans

Of course, we can’t overlook cost. The average funeral costs around £4,000 and there are many funeral plans available to pre pay for your funeral. Our Hertfordshire Funeral Plan is exclusive to us and, unlike many other plans available, customised specifically to your requirements. Find out more at:

How to tell your loved ones what you want

If you, or those close to you, don’t feel ready to talk about your wishes, then you can always write everything down in a book and make sure they know where to find it after you pass away.

Gone But Not Forgotten

December 4th, 2018    Author:

The funeral of a loved one is overwhelming. For many, the service passes in a blur of grief and afterwards it can be difficult to recall many details. You may not remember all the people who were there or have only hazy memories of the floral tributes – yet those memories can bring solace in the days, and years, to come.

That’s why Austin’s offer a tribute service to capture all the special moments of a funeral or memorial. We discreetly film the service, taking in everything from the music and eulogies to the poems, tribute cards and messages. All the little details are then there for you to replay when you feel ready. It can be a great comfort to be reminded of all the people who cherished your loved one and came to pay their respects.

A tribute film also allows family and friends who couldn’t be there to share the commemoration. And for children who were too young to attend or understand what was happening, the film is a wonderful keepsake to show them when they are older.

Your tribute film can be of the service alone or we can personalise it by adding location footage – perhaps a walk you both loved or your favourite picnic spot – and family photos and videos. Whichever you choose, we’ll give you the gift of an everlasting memory.

* To discuss our tribute film service, please contact us on 01438 815555.