Nigel Lymn Rose
My grandfather Harold always used to say there were 300 plus funeral directors in Nottingham in the very early 1900s. You could have a death every day of the year and use a different undertaker – whether that was a slight exaggeration or not I don’t know. Our firm, A.W. Lymn, started in 1907, but not in Sneinton Market. Harold and my great-grandfather Arthur William were involved with house clearances and they were getting more and more people asking them for sufficient money to pay for a funeral, so getting involved with funerals seemed to be the next logical step. I believe at that time we already had the stabling on Robin Hood Street which is the road adjacent to Bath Street. I don’t know when exactly the Bath Street shop was purchased.
Harold, who was in the Royal Navy Air Service, was called back from Margate when the 1918 flu epidemic hit. He was released to assist with the mass deaths – there weren’t mortuaries in those days, nor funeral directors and facilities. A safe environment in which to keep infected bodies was badly needed. Usually, the body was left upstairs in bed then brought down the night before the funeral when you delivered the coffin, but for the flu epidemic, the great idea of Harold and Arthur was that the Victoria Baths were drained to provided a sterile environment where they could store the deceased for washing down afterwards. The Baths were used during the blitz as well, when Nottingham was bombed.
I married Harold’s daughter and came to work in the business in about 1952. There were a lot of undertakers, and they gradually stopped, or asked firms like us to deal with everything for them. Eventually, A.W. Lymm plus Clowers, Bamfords, and Baguleys became the big four funeral directors in Nottingham. Clowers was eventually taken over by the Co-op, but continued to trade under its original, name. The consequence was that the aristocrats would say, “Send for Clowers!” The solicitors would do that, and the aristocrats had no idea they were dealing with the Co-op. When Nottingham was bombed, all the windows were blown out of one of the Co-op’s hearses, and it went out with what appeared to be the cleanest windows it had ever had!
You had to be careful not to upset the laying out woman for the district. She was often there before the undertaker and if she didn’t like you she would say, “Don’t use those, use so-and-so!” So she was quite influential! Those women ran the roost in their particular area. There was a lot of ritual, hours of washing the body and doing the laying out – they put a saucer of salt on the chest for sterilisation and pennies on the eyes, although if you were well off they’d be half crowns.
Nigel Lymn Rose
Lymns were a little bit unusual because we had Shillibeers which were only ever used in Nottingham and London. These were designed by George Shillibeer whose other claim to fame was designing the London Omnibus. The Shillibeer was a coach which accommodated the coffin in the back and up to six of the family in the front. Two horses pulled it although if you found one now they would say you needed four!
We were always called “Lymnies” – never Lymn’s. When we moved to the new building on Robin Hood Street, the tragedy was that the council clearly wanted to drive us out of the area. They compulsory purchased the whole of our site then sold it us back for a much-increased price. We were told, “You don’t stand a chance! They’ll have it.” but they didn’t.
My grandmother was a hard woman – back then, so many kids were born dead – she must have buried over half a dozen. She used to wrap them in linen and take them on the bus to Lymnies. She knew Mr Lymn as he would buy a top hat and tails off my grandfather. She’d say to him, “I’ve got another child here that’s passed on, I ain’t got no money, we need a Christian burial.” He’d say, “Okay, we’ll put it in the feet of a dead man.” So they did that for my grandmother because she didn’t have the money. Otherwise, the baby would have had to gone in a pauper’s grave, I suppose.
I used to live on Alfred Street North, and walk to work along St. Ann’s Well Road. There used to be a funeral place – Bamforth’s and somebody had told me this customer had died. One morning it was really foggy, like a pea-souper. Walking along there, half past four in the morning, this bloke come towards me – the very same one who had apparently died! Turns out it was his father who’d passed on – they both had the same name!