UK's first electric hearse takes part in green burial event


At long last we have an environmentally responsible replacement for conventional hearses – the dinosaurs of the road.

 A ‘green burial’ is becoming more widely requested. To help people to plan an eco-funeral an awareness day took place at Barton Glebe, Britain’s first Christian woodland burial ground, on 19th November. At the event the UK’s first electric hearse, developed by Brahms Electric Vehicles, was on show and carrying a willow eco-coffin from WinterWillow.

Charles Cowling from the Good Funeral Guide spoke at the event. He was delighted by the presence of an electric hearse.

He says: “At long last we have an environmentally responsible replacement for conventional hearses – the dinosaurs of the road. For all petrol and diesel vehicles fuel consumption is highest when an engine is cold, so short journeys are hideously inefficient.

“Conventional hearses have large engines and do short journeys, so have a disproportionate carbon footprint. These short journeys make them ideal for conversion to electric power.

“In every other aspect of our lives we are trying to reduce our carbon footprint, so why have funerals been left to last? I know many people will be welcome the alternative Brahms Electric Vehicles provides.”

The day was hosted by the social enterprise WinterWillow, part of WinterComfort for the homeless, which makes eco-coffins from sustainable willow. Their project manager Tracy O’Leary says: “Green funerals are a way of celebrating a life well lived and leaving a positive legacy for future generations. The event empowers visitors to make informed decisions about their funerals, with information about everything from flowers to finance.

“Conventional coffins contain toxic glues, varnish, plastics and metals that remain in the environment for years. Willow is a natural material and weaving is an age-old craft. We are delighted that our coffins can now be transported in a ‘green’ hearse with a quiet electric engine that doesn’t intrude on the natural environment at woodland burial grounds.”

The Brahms hearse is smooth, quiet and eco-friendly. It can accelerate smoothly to 35 mph and has a range of 50 km, which is ideal for the short journeys typical for a hearse. It retains its normal engine for when higher speeds are needed, for example on the motorway. Brahms’ technology means that an existing hearse can be modified to run on electric power. The hearse is plugged in to a normal 3-pin socket, and left overnight for a full charge.

Steve Cousins from Brahms Electric Vehicles says: “An electric hearse is a way of celebrating the environmental values and concerns of the deceased and of their family. Our hearse has received very positive feedback from funeral directors who increasingly see people wanting a greater choice for burials.”

Barton Glebe burial ground is run by the Arbory Trust – the first Church of England charity to open a natural burial site. Recent research by Dr Hannah Rumble, Honorary Associate at the Centre for Death and Life Studies, University of Durham, in collaboration with the Trust has shown that the peace of the woodland provides a ‘healing space’ where friends and relatives of the deceased can come to terms with their loss.

In a presentation of her research findings at the 2011 annual Barton Glebe open day, Dr Rumble said: “I interviewed people connected with Barton Glebe and found that being amongst nature at the burial ground is calming and therapeutic. Many friends and relatives of people buried at Barton Glebe find comfort in the symbolism of the deceased becoming part of the natural landscape.”

WinterWillow is keen to add to the ethical choices available at funerals, allowing people to put social and environmental values at the heart of their final wishes. It is part of Wintercomfort for the homeless – a Cambridge charity that provides a range of support for individuals in need – and employs people with experience of homelessness as coffin weavers.

Steve says: “The popularity of Barton Glebe and WinterWillow shows that people are embracing more eco-friendly burials and we’re glad to be proving a green choice.”




Brahms Electric Vehicles:

Brahms Electric Vehicles is a spin-out of Axon Automotive established to provide a bespoke service for the Funeral Industry.

Axon Automotive is a British car company that aims to manufacture the most fuel efficient cars in Europe. Axon is a specialist in carbon fibre, and its new manufacturing techniques mean that this Formula 1 technology is now affordable, offering the potential for a new generation of light, safe and fuel efficient eco-cars.

Axon is producing a Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) and has established Brahms Electric Vehicles to tailor its offering to meet the specific requirements of Funeral Directors.


Wintercomfort for the homeless was set up in 1991 by Henry Rothschild to provide food and shelter to the hundreds who found themselves street homeless in the City of Cambridge.

As part of this work Wintercomfort set up WinterWillow, a social enterprise that crafts eco-coffins woven from sustainable willow. The coffins are fully biodegradable and do not contain any toxic glues, varnish, metal or plastics that cause pollution in both burial and cremation.

Barton Glebe:

The woodland burial ground at Barton Glebe has been in existence for more than 11 years and was the first Christian woodland burial charity, one of only two English woodland sites to be consecrated. We warmly welcome everyone, regardless of race, religion, geographical or theological boundary.

It is on Comberton Road, Barton, 5 minutes from Junction 12 of the M11, and is signposted from the A603 Cambridge to Sandy road. Satnav postcode CB23 7BA. Visitors are welcomed anytime as the gates are never locked.

More information about the Arbory Trust can be found on
Hilary Jackson, Administrator 01223 303874


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