West & Coe 110th anniversary: History

Henry West conducting a child's funeral in 1940

Henry West conducting a child's funeral in 1940 - Credit: Archant

One of Dagenham’s oldest businesses, funeral directors West & Coe, turns 110 today. Here we look at the firm’s history.

Edward West and Henry Coe

Edward West and Henry Coe - Credit: Archant

On October 17 1903, two young carpenters from Dagenham Village – Edward West and Henry Coe – launched their business and named it West & Coe.

Jack West

Jack West - Credit: Archant

The pair, who had worked together as apprentices under builder and undertaker George Pearcey, initially focused on building houses, many of which still stand in Hornchurch today.

West & Coe's first office, called the White House

West & Coe's first office, called the White House - Credit: Archant

A few years later Edward and Henry took over George Pearcey’s business, inheriting coffin-maker Alfred Wellington in the process.

The company, based in Ibscott Close, continued it’s building work, but began sharing undertaking duties with another local undertaker, W Howgego.

There were about 9,000 people living in Dagenham Village at the time and between them the firms carried out about 50 funerals.

In the early days of West & Coe most people died at home and undertakers, such as Edward and Henry, would often carry the coffin long distances across fields and paths, delivering it to the family.

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This would usually happen after dark to avoid upsetting people.

A few days later Edward, who took on the role of funeral conductor, would dress in white cuffs, stiff collar, top hat and frock coat and lead mourners from the home to the churchyard in Dagenham for burial.

In 1927, the two men were joined by Edward’s 17-year-old son Jack, a young man full of enthusiasm and entrepreneurial spirit, keen to help the business grow.

Demand for funerals in Dagenham grew significantly after the First World War when the population exploded with the development of the Becontree Estate.

The firm responded by opening an undertakers in Station Road (now Exeter Road) in 1923, adding another in Lodge Avenue in 1934.

After many years of carrying the coffin by hand or using a horse and carriage, West & Coe introduced motor hearses in 1928 – not a popular move with all.

Some families felt it looked as if they were hurrying their loved ones to the grave.

Over the decades the company continued to expand, with more branches opening, including a purpose built building in Rainham Road South in 1982.

By the late 60s both Edward and Henry had died and Jack was running his father’s business, which no longer built houses.

He was soon joined by his son, Jeremy, in 1972.

Jack died in 1993 aged 83, and today the company is headed by Jeremy, 57, with the help of his son Jamie, 29.

His mother, Daphne West and sister Jenny Gillander are directors.

With 16 offices across east London, Essex and Kent, the family business continues to grow and is now one of the biggest funeral directors in the UK.