Expert confirms only Birmingham’s coffin furniture good enough for royal family!

The names of Princess Diana and the Queen Mother have long been associated with Newman Brothers, a former Victorian brass-founding company, specialising in coffin fittings, and now an award-winning museum in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter. Former staff at the factory, which closed its doors in 1999, had always proudly celebrated the royal link as a badge of honour that brought great esteem to their company. Since opening as a museum in October 2014, this was the story that the museum staff now so desperately wanted to confirm, once and for all.

When Collections & Exhibitions Manager, Sarah Hayes started working behind the scenes at the museum in early 2014, she began the search for the royal link in the Newman Brothers’ archive, sifting through the company’s business records.

The key to the puzzle was first connecting Newman Brothers to the crown undertakers, J.H.Kenyon of London. This wasn’t difficult as the Newman Brothers’ business records were littered with entries of orders from the crown undertakers between the 1930s and the 1990s. J. H. Kenyon Ltd performed royal funerals from 1928 to 1991, including the funerals of notable state officials such as Sir Winston Churchill. Newman Brothers had always claimed to have supplied the handles for Princess Diana’s funeral and the Queen Mothers, but the link initially seemed doubtful as Kenyon’s lost the royal contract in 1991, and Diana and the Queen Mother died in 1997 and 2002 respectively. It was also difficult to link Newman Brothers to the new royal undertakers, Levertons, who took over the contract, as much of Newman’s company archive from the 1990s is incomplete.

This all changed when Collections & Exhibitions Manager, Sarah Hayes, teamed up with funerary historian and expert, Dr Julian Litten, to produce a series of short films on the history of Newman Brothers.

Sarah Hayes, Collections & Exhibitions Manager said:

I knew that Julian had acted as advisor to the royal undertakers and that’s why I decided to contact him – to help with research in general, but also to ask him once and for all to confirm whether the royal link was true. All I can say is that it’s a good job we haven’t produced a guidebook yet, because it would have to be rewritten! Julian not only confirmed the link to Diana and the Queen Mother, but many other royals too, including George V and VI and Queen Mary. Even more interesting is that Kenyon’s chose the same Newman Brothers’ handle for all royal funerals – the cast brass gothic. This was reserved for Churchill too.

Speaking about how Julian became involved in the two royal funerals, he said:


It was on the strength of a telephone call from Leverton’s on the day that she (Diana) died. In essence it was "Help! This is our first royal funeral since receiving the royal warrant and we don't know what to do." I told them what to put on the coffin – only the cast brass gothic Newman Brothers’ handles would do. Apart from this, the only other member of the royal family for whose funeral I advised was that of the Queen Mother.

In addition, Litten also said of the Newman Brothers’ collection:

This collection represents a unique and internationally important resource for a wide variety of social, economic and industrial studies, and as such must be preserved for the nation.

Two short films have now been produced by the Coffin Works, in which Julian stars and confirms the many royal connections to Newman Brothers. You can view them online here:

https://vimeo.com/172808066
https://vimeo.com/172872185

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