Funeral directors to the Royal Household
Usually privately owned and commercially operated businesses, the funeral directors to the Royal Household do not have more than an occasional role, although they will be called upon if a death occurs in the Royal Family to assist in arranging the funeral arrangements.
Although comparable in their role and function to Royal Warrant holders, the funeral directors serving the Royal Household do not traditionally advertise the fact that they work for the Royal Family.
It is not known when the Royal Household of the Sovereign of the United Kingdom began to employ privately owned and commercially operated funeral directors' companies. In the early 19th century, the royal undertakers were the family business of William Banting of St. James’s Street, London. The Banting family conducted the funerals of King George III in 1820, King George IV in 1830, the Duke of Gloucester in 1834, the Duke of Wellington in 1852, Prince Albert in 1861, Prince Leopold in 1884, Queen Victoria in 1901, and King Edward VII in 1910. The royal undertaking warrant for the Banting family ended in 1928 with the retirement of William Westport Banting.
After the Banting family had ceased to operate as royal funeral directors in 1928, several society undertaking firms lobbied for the warrant. It was finally awarded to the socially and politically well-connected Sir Harold Vaughan Kenyon, who also served six terms as Mayor of Paddington. His company had been established in 1880 by his father, James Harold Kenyon (1841-91) and was incorporated under the name of J. H. Kenyon Ltd in 1899. It was this company which oversaw the funerals of King George VI in 1952, Queen Mary in 1953, and Sir Winston Churchill in 1965. The company's chief embalmer during this period was Desmond Henley. Another London firm, William Garstin not J H Kenyon, assisted with the funeral arrangements for King George V.
In 1991, the royal undertaking warrant passed to Leverton & Sons, a 200-year-old family firm of funeral directors. Leverton & Sons was established in St Pancras in 1763 by Devonshire carpenter John Leverton. In 1888, the business moved to Eversholt Street in Camden, north London, where its headquarters remain. In 2007 company director Clive Leverton explained the mode of appointment to The Telegraph. "'There is no written contract,' he said. 'It is just a handshake really.'" In 1997 Leverton & Sons repatriated the body of Diana, Princess of Wales. The company also organised the funerals of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother in 2002, Princess Margaret in 2002 and Baroness Thatcher in 2013.
List of royal undertakers
- Until 1928: William Banting, St. James’s Street, London
- 1928 to 1991: J. H. Kenyon Ltd, Paddington, London
- 1991 to present: Leverton & Sons, Camden, London
- Todd Van Beck, "The Death and State Funeral of Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill", part II, in Canadian Funeral News (October 2012), Vol. 40 Issue 10, p. 10 (online Archived 2014-03-16 at the Wayback Machine)
- Parsons, Brian (2014). JH Kenyon: A Short History. Brian Parsons. p. 21.
- "In memoriam Desmond C. Henley". Internet. Christopher Henley Limited 2008 - 2010. Archived from the original on 14 September 2013. Retrieved 8 March 2014.
- Parsons, Brian (2014). JH Kenyon: A Short History. Brian Parsons. p. 55.
- "Queen's undertakers have 'first call coffin'". Felix Lowe and agencies. www.telegraph.co.uk, 22 Nov 2007. Retrieved 8 March 2014.
- "'After Lady Thatcher's funeral, I toasted her at home with a single malt'". Joe Shute. www.telegraph.co.uk, 22 Nov 2007. Retrieved 19 Apr 2013.