By Dan Coles & Dilantha Dissanayake
A thrifty pensioner who spent 18 months building his own COFFIN was left gutted – when it accidentally went up in flames.
Frank Bartlett, 76, a former headteacher, magistrate and parish council chairman, from Lichfield, Staffs, wanted to arrange his own economical funeral – right down to making the casket he would be cremated in.
But after 18 months of cutting, carving and assembling his French oak based death box, his shed caught fire – sending the coffin up in flames prematurely.
Refusing to let the instance stop his low-cost funeral he has already began preparing to construct a second one.
Frank said: “I always knew that all my hard work would go up in flames, but I didn’t expect to be around to see it – I should have been in it.
“I spent a lot of time making it, not to mention the hours spent chiselling my own carvings into the wood.
“I’m very disappointed that my family won’t get to see it all. I plan to start rebuilding as soon as possible.”
The blaze roared 20 metres in the air with flames spotted by neighbours on either side of his house which was caused by a domestic heating fan inside his garden shed where he kept the coffin safe.
Frank managed to get his coffin costs down to just £20, which also contained a step-by-step dossier of exactly how to handle his funeral as well as a playlist of songs for his service – including The Archers theme song.
The fire left little for Frank to work on with the shed completely destroyed, along with the coffin he had spent nearly two-years hand crafting.
Frank said: “I wanted to plan my own funeral because I feel that grieving relatives are at their most vulnerable when they have to make decisions about their departed spouse.
“People think it’s odd until I explain why I’m making the coffin; I want to have the final say on how my demise should be handled.
“It was quite terrifying when the shed went up in flames, the coffin took 18 months to complete and it still was not finished.
“The fire was horrendous because of the different dyes and paints in the shed that contained sugar.
“The flames were about 20 foot in the air and the heat was so strong that it smashed my next-door neighbours’ windows.
“There are so many decisions one has to make when burying their beloved, I’ll be stored at the local undertakers and my service will be at a village hall, which will only cost about £100 to book.”
Frank started preparing for his demise in 2018, he wanted to have the most economical funeral possible at as little a cost to his family.
Frank said: “My wife and I have talked it over; we will opt for the most economic funeral and it will be how I’ve decided.”
Franks wife, Isabel added: “I think he’s absolutely crazy, and I do think it’s quite morbid, but he knows what he’s talking about and it does make sense.
“He asked if he could have it in the house, and I said absolutely not.”
As part of his decision, Frank managed to get hold of some free French oak wood and began constructing his own coffin, even carving his own
custom art into the wood.
Frank said: “I have my own special chisels; it took me ages to get this coffin ready and ironically has set on fire before it was supposed to – without me inside it.”
The fire ripped through his large shed in the back garden, which became so uncontrollable that the fire department had to be called to control the fierce blaze.
Frank said: “A young lass next door shouted to her mum that there was a fire in my garden.
“Her mum told her that I always have fires in the garden, but the lass told her that this time it was big.”
His neighbour called the dire department, who swiftly arrived to hose down the shed destroying flames, and phoned Frank who at the time was in his office close to his home.
Frank said: “The fire department was incredible, very professional.”
Now, Frank plans to continue his preparations by starting a new coffin as soon as he replaces the damaged tools.
Frank said: “This time I’m going to take more time with my coffin, I think I’ll chisel a phoenix to go on the top of the new coffin.
“To be honest, I have always been seen to be a little odd anyway, I used to ride a horse to work, and that was only 10 years ago.”