Passing on

A typical village would have a number of commercial establishments such as:  a smithy, butcher’s yard, saddle and harness maker, and carpenter and coffin maker. In 1900 Mr. Sairey, is listed as, among other occupations, as an undertaker.  Primarily, patients died in their own homes and stayed there until burial. If death was the result of an infectious disease in a cramped dwelling, it could result in the rest of the family having to crowd together in one room, leaving the body (for hygiene reasons) in a room of its own.  Between 1817 and 1852 Chinnor burial records included the date of death as well as the date of burial, indicating a period of about 2-3 days between death and internment, during which time, the body would remain in the home. Nearby was the High Wycombe and Earl of Beaconsfield Memorial Cottage Hospital (10 miles) which started as a cottage hospital 1875-1923 and was later the High Wycombe War Memorial Hospital 1923-1971. It was described in Burdetts ‘Cottage Hospitals’ as ‘being pleasantly situated with a well laid out garden and the general arrangements were good’. Burdett, was particularly pleased to note that a mortuary had been included in the plans, stating that a mortuary was an indispensable adjunct to a properly equipped cottage hospital, particularly if it was open to the public as well as being for hospital use.  In 1902 an isolation room was added to the High Wycombe Hospital.

Funeral directors Surman and Horwood have served Chinnor parishes since the second half of the 1940s.  Founded by Bertram Surman and Thomas Horwood it is a family firm currently under the direction of.  The name Surman can be found on the parish records from 1649.

Conversation with Rachel Surman about the effect of the pandemic on the firm.

Rachels main role is administrative and occasional mortuary work.  Throughout the pandemic Surman’s staff found that they had to adopt a whole new way of working. Funeral services were restricted to 6 attendees so Surmans had an increase in cremations with a funeral service later.    Whist recovering a client personnel had to wear full PPE with breathing masks and the premises, cars and recovery vehicle had to be deep cleaned multiple times.

Much of which was the antithesis of their customary empathetic personal approach work ethos, For example, no viewings were allowed and the usual body preparation was not done and funeral arrangements having to be conducted by phone or zoom. Rachel pointing out that this was a disadvantage since it was not possible to meet relatives until the day of the funeral. The number of staff available during the day was reduced although on call night staff had to be maintained because nursing homes needed a prompt recovery of a client whereas previously before they would wait until morning.

The firm also suffered with logistics issues  such as a lack of PPE and body bags, however, due to the foresight of Robert Surman who had been involved in Chinnor’s Emergency Plan from the early stages, had stock piled equipment in preparation for such an event.

Surmans did not experience the full force of the pandemic for the first 2 months after that, calls on their services almost tripled and for 9 weeks the firm was working 12-14 hour days at full capacity stop with unprecedented numbers of funerals to accommodate. In order to cope with the  increase work load the firm split into two teams to keep the number of persons at work at the lowest level and to maintain a service should a member of staff have to isolate. Prior to the pandemic Surmans had doubled their storage capacity and were also able to rent refrigeration units from Stoke Mandeville hospital if necessary.

The staff at Surmans were not immune to the effect of the pandemic losing two members of the family themselves and sharing in the communal grief.