It all started back in 1873, when William Rowland migrated to Croydon (London) in his late teens in search of work. William and his wife chose 301 Whitehorse Road as their place of residence – and this address is where the business began, and remains to this day.
The company was originally W. Rowland, Builder and Undertaker. Rowland, who worked primarily as a carpenter, was approached and tasked with making a coffin. In addition to this, he offered to take the coffin to the house, encoffin the deceased, and then transfer to the cemetery – essentially conducting his first funeral arrangement. The business’s Funeral Directors division was born.
William was succeeded by three sons – William, Harry, and Alfred, who drew up an agreement to rename the business as Rowland Brothers, after conducting a string of high profile funerals for wealthy and famous people.
After the First World War – and the untimely death of William – Alfred and Harry split the business. Alfred took over the building and decorating side, while Harry took full control of the funeral sector. In subsequent years, the business grew massively, as the 1918 influenza epidemic saw a dramatic rise in mortality around the UK.
The next generation
Harry had two sons – Jim and Arthur. Jim started working with his father when he left school at the age of 14 years, but later left the business to work as a printer to help bring in additional income for the family. He then went on to work for newspapers such as the Daily Telegraph and News of the World, and would continue to help the family out with funerals where possible. Arthur remained within the funeral business and married Muriel – mother of Tony Rowland, RBI’s current Senior Partner and Chairman.
In 1945, the building at 301 Whitehorse Road was badly damaged by a bomb during the Second World War, and was left empty at risk of demolition. Muriel took the decision to move back into the building, to ensure the house and business survived. Muriel kept the business running while Arthur and Jim were in active service.
Upon their return, they continued to expand the business with a newly bought motor fleet consisting of a Ford van, and an Austin 16 hearse, to conduct funerals around the Croydon area. In 1952, the first Rowland Brothers chapel was built to keep up with the increasing funeral demands – which proved to be a huge success. By the late 1960s, cremation took over from burial, with the middle class populace of nearby Thornton Heath (just up the road) ahead of the national average in adopting the practice.
In 1959, Tony Rowland joined the family firm, and was the first official employee on the books. A skilled carpenter, he was tasked with making coffins and urns, and quickly adopted more efficient ways of production with the aim of selling to other funeral directors. Tony also became qualified to bring embalming in-house. Tony also saw the overhaul RB’s headquarters, with the combination of 299–303 Whitehorse Road into a new head office for the company.
In the early 1970s, Tony conducted his first repatriation from Spain to the UK – and this became the foundation of RBI. Tony, and his brothers David and Bob – eventually took over the company in 1977, when they drew up a 10-year expansion plan. This included the purchase of a sweet shop next door, to make room for a workshop upstairs, and building a new embalming theatre. Tony’s wife Margaret worked for the business for more than 30 years, having joined in 1978. Their children, Steve and Melanie, also joined the firm – becoming lead partners in the business in 2007. Tony’s mother Muriel continued to work up until her 100th Birthday – a truly remarkable lady.
Tragically, Melanie passed away in 2012, and Steve took over her role in RBI, as well as his other roles in RB and Golden Leaves (pre-paid Funeral Plans), and still today is our Managing Director for our group of companies.
Joe Walkling-Rowland has spent the last 15 years working his way through the businesses, and is now a Director of Rowland Brothers Trade (Fibrous Funeral Supplies). He is following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Tony; his mother, Melanie, and his uncle, Steve. Joe has started his training within RBI. Once this is complete, he will be ready to drive the business forward alongside Steve and our wonderful management Team.
RBI is located within the Head Office of the RB Group in Whitehorse Road, and today has a state-of-the-art mortuary, coffin display showroom, warehouse, workshop, wash room, chapels of rest, masonry workshop, garage which holds our fleet of limousines, hearses, and transportation vans, arranging rooms to meet families and office space housing RB Funeral Directors Team and RBI Team. We are proud to be part of such an amazing family-run business, and proud to celebrate Rowland Brothers’ 150th anniversary this year.