Mary was born on 5th September 1884. She was the daughter of the village undertaker, Homer Busby, and as a child, earned many a sixpence for holding gentlemen’s top hats at funerals. In fact the family business consisted of much more than just the undertaking business as Homer was a builder who had built a number of the larger houses in the area.
When her father died on Christmas Day in 1929, aged 73, Mary took over the undertaking business to become the only female undertaker in Hertfordshire and one of only a few in the whole country. She soon became a familiar sight at funerals dressed in her ankle length, dark grey worsted costume and large, broad brimmed, black straw hat. She later reminisced about the good old days when "we had beautiful black horses with plumes, and the gentlemen all wore black crepe around their top hats".
If she wasn't in her funeral attire she would mostly be seen dressed in a capacious blue gingham wrap around apron making for the churchyard with a gardening fork over her shoulder, to tend the graves she was commissioned to keep in order.
Her father, Homer, was one of four children born to Benjamin and Elizabeth Busby who were publicans at The Kings Head public house opposite the graveyard. I found that Homer's three siblings had all died relatively young, even for those days, so I sent for their death certificates :
- Agnes, who had been born two years after Homer, died aged just 16 on 23rd May 1875.
- A few months later on 19th September 1875, Elizabeth, the oldest daughter, died aged 20.
Amazing what you can discover from the back of an old postcard !
Lesley Brooks of Abbots Langley Local History Society.
Mary's obituary in the local Parish magazine "Outlook" written shortly after her death.