Who we are and our History
J.B. Shakespeare Ltd was founded in 1877 and has been proud to serve Croydon families as an independent family run business ever since.
We offer a professional and caring 24-hour a day service and deal with all aspects of funeral arrangements, from burials, cremations, repatriations, pre-arranged funeral plans and all types of monumental and stone work.
If you need help with funeral arrangements please do not hesitate to contact us.
Our head office at 1 Norfolk House, Wellesley Road is in central Croydon and a short stroll from the Registry Office at the Town Hall. We also have another office at 175 Selsdon Park Road, at the bottom of Gravel Hill.
We belong to the trade associations the NAFD and SAIF as well as NAMM and BRAM for memorial work. We are also signed up to the FAIR FUNERALS pledge.
James B Shakespeare
In the beginning….
James Benjamin Shakespeare founded the original company at age 25, in 1877, from his premises at 10 Scarbrook Road, Croydon, Surrey and by 1881 he had one ‘lad’ helping him.
James had been working as a “master carpenter and local builder” and was used to creating things from wood, thus it was no difficulty for him to build coffins, as well as provide a service. He steadily expanded the business over many years embracing new technologies such as the telephone and “motor car”.
By 1889 he moved the business into 67 George Street, East Croydon, which eventually became the family home. This was a smart move as the old Town Hall with registrars was alongside their offices.
The photograph above, assumed to be taken around 1890 in the back garden, shows the family with James (top right), his first wife Ann, their eldest son William (top left), Ernesto (back middle) and James has
his hands resting on Edward, together with the other three daughters.
In 1891 the eldest son William James joined the business, which by then owned two additional properties at 29 and 31 Church Road, Croydon, that became local “Branch Offices”. The other two sons joined the business when they “came of age”.
In 1903 the company was referred to as “Undertaker and Carriage Master”. The carriages were horse drawn-hearses, known as “four in hand”.
By 1907 the monumental business, providing memorial stones, had been started and 21 Sheldon Street property was acquired to house the “modern car, hearse and carriages” even a private petrol store and pump was eventually added. In 1910 a new branch was opened at 159 London Road.
Sheldon Street only became the full time works base for the cars and monumental business after 1915. The chapel, visitor and resting areas were created there too.
In 1931, William, Ernesto and Edward decided to change the family business into a Private Limited company, which was then known as Undertakers, Funeral Furnishers and Monumental Masons.
During the second World War, Edward became Manager and Secretary of the company and then his nephew, Douglas took over from Edward as Chairman in the early 1960’s. David Dighton joined in 1961 and by the mid-1990’s had taken over-managing the company.
In 1957 there were nine people employed in coffin making, bearing, driving as well as two stonemasons with a driver, and freelance letter cutter. 1957 was a special year in that we topped 1,000 funerals for the first time, an average of about 19 funerals per five day week – sometimes in winter at least 25.
The horse-drawn hearses were not used by then, but employed 4 hearse/saloon cars, an ambulance and truck (for the masons) plus director cars all based at Sheldon Street.
During the 1980’s the company was employing on average 15 to 20 people and in the late 1990’s still carrying out over 700 funerals a year, although by the mid 2000’s this was down to an average of 500.
The company has always continued to embrace new technologies, such as introducing computers providing funeral plans and offering more environmentally “green” and woodland funerals.
By the 1970’s the company was still conducting up to 800 funerals per year and employing over ten people directly: 5 bearers /drivers; 2 stone masons; 2 in the office and 3 funeral directors, and others on a part time basis.
NB: Historical notes also by kind courtesy of John Shakespeare, the late Colin Shakespeare,
Richard Randall and Pauline Akehurst (nee Shakespeare).