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Victorian hearse brought back from dead to be unveiled at Shrewsbury Flower Show

By Toby Neal | Shrewsbury | Nostalgia | Published:

A dilapidated Victorian hearse brought back from the dead thanks to a year-long restoration project is being officially unveiled to the public for the first time at Shrewsbury Flower Show.

The unique wooden hand-carved hearse dating from around 1850 was acquired by funeral directors W R R Pugh & Son in Shrewsbury in the 1970s but was later loaned by the Pugh family to Shugborough Estate in Staffordshire and displayed in its museum.

In 2016 Peter Forrest, Pugh's managing director, received a call to say the estate could no longer house the hearse. It was in such a poor state that he did not believe it would survive the journey back to the business premises in Longden Coleham.

The hearse, with large wooden wheels, and intricate carved detailing, would have been pulled by horses along cobbled streets. It has no windows and is completely enclosed. Much of the vehicle was rotten and the Pugh family did not know if it could be restored.

However, three years later and after a 12-month restoration project carried out by Philip Holder, owner of the award-winning Wellington Carriage Company, it is now ready to be unveiled.

Ian McDougall, director of W R R Pugh & Son, said: “This is really unique – truly one of a kind.

“There would not have been another hearse exactly the same at the time it was made. We don’t know of one anywhere else in the world which has been restored like this."

"Philip has done an amazing job. There are so many unanswered questions about the history. The detailing in the carving is unbelievable and really beautiful. We knew this was too good to lose and we wanted it to be celebrated and shared.

The Victorian hearse in 1986. Picture: Staffordshire Museum Service.

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"We hope the hearse will travel to more events in 2020 as part of our landmark 130 years in business next year.”

The hearse will be transported to The Quarry and will be on display for the first time to the public in the Quarry Marquee at Shrewsbury Flower Show on August 9 and 10.

It will be decorated by in-house florists from Forget Me Not, based next door to Pugh’s in Coleham.

Florists Lisa Butler and Amy O’Dwyer will be decorating the hearse as it would have been in years gone by, while also demonstrating how floristry for funerals has changed over the years.

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An exhibition will also journey into the history of Pugh’s and of funerals and flowers through the years.

“Our exhibition will show the changes in funerals from the 1800s to the present day which is extremely interesting with regards to transport and flowers,” Mr McDougall added.

“We are very proud of this amazing carriage and hope to exhibit it as much as possible and look into any educational opportunities for schools who are studying this era of history.”

Pugh's continues to be owned by the great-granddaughter of Jabez Pugh who founded the business in the Coleham area of Shrewsbury in 1890.

The business moved from cabinet making to a funeral business in the 1900s when Jabez’s son William Robert Reginald Pugh was at the helm.

William’s son Perry then joined the business in 1956 after his National Service. Perry’s daughter Helen Purcell-Jones remains chairman of the company.

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.

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