Bespoke coffins go on show in London

By Neil Bowdler
Reporter, BBC News

  • Published
Media caption,

David Crampton of Nottingham-based Crazy Coffins, introduces the coffins and two of the clients

Inside a storeroom at a Nottingham industrial estate, an artist is putting the final touches to a miniature Viking longship.

The ship is not intended for the seas, but is a coffin commissioned by a client of Nottingham company Crazy Coffins.

The company is a spinoff from traditional coffin manufacturer Vic Fearn and Company Ltd. The idea came not from the makers but from a potential customer some 15 years ago.

"I'm afraid it wasn't my idea - I wish it was," says company manager David Crampton, standing between a train and a guitar (coffins, that is).

"A lady said 'Can you make me an aeroplane? I'm a fan of the Red Arrows'."

Half an hour later, he called her back and agreed to take on the project, and the company have been making bespoke coffins ever since.

So far, they have made boats, cars, skips, surf boards, kites and an egg.

"That belongs to a lady who says 'When I was born I was born in the foetus position. When I die I want to be buried in the foetus position'," says Mr Crampton.

Another request was for a coffee table.

"This man wanted to put a coffee table in his lounge and have a safety-glass top. He wants his friends to come round and put their drinks on it and look into eventually where he'll be buried. That was very macabre."

Image caption,
George Spencer of Crazy Coffins works on a boat-shaped casket

Among the coffins is also a sledge complete with skis. It belongs to the very same man finishing the Viking ship - Richard Mullard, artist and Arctic explorer.

"It's based on expedition sledges I've used in the past for making trips into the Arctic," he says.

"I had a strong feeling that when I was out there on my own I was independent and everything that was important to me was contained in this sledge or pulka as it's called in Sweden.

"I wanted these things that have had such a strong influence on me to be with me when I make that final journey."

He wants to buried on the sledge, with his skis on "simply because I want to present someone with a problem. It's just how I am. I like to be a bit awkward."

Crazy Coffins has now been invited to take part in a festival dedicated to the subject of death at London's Southbank Centre.

Boxed: Fabulous Coffins from UK and Ghana, features coffins both from the Nottingham factory and from from the Ghana workshop of Paa Joe.

Paa Joe comes from the Akwapim Hills, north-east of the Ghanaian capital Accra. He served as an apprentice to a sculptor called Kane Kwei, who is credited with beginning an entire tradition of figurative coffins.

Paa Joe's work includes a lion, giant cocoa bean (below) and a Mercedes-shaped urn.

Final flight

Back in Nottingham, up the road from the storeroom at the coffin factory, a customer has arrived to see his special commission for the very first time.

Malcolm Brocklehurst worked in the plane business for years and wants to go out in a plane - an orange one in the colours of his beloved Blackpool football club.

He hopes to be wheeled around the club's pitch in his coffin on match day when he dies, before making a final flight to the crematorium.

There, to the probable tune of the Dam Busters, he will be wheeled down the aisle before the wings and tail are detached so that the coffin can be fed into the furnace.

The final decor and undercarriage are yet to be fitted and so it currently sits on a supermarket trolley, but Malcolm loves it.

"Leave 'em laughing - that's what you've got to do, because I've had a good life and it's going to be a fun funeral."

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