MANY of Sussex’s most well known businesses have been serving their customers for decades. But none more so that C.P.J Field, a business with a history that dates back more than three centuries to 1690. We look back at the incredible story of one of Sussex’s most successful family operations.

In the 17th century, the concept of a funeral director didn’t exist.

The Field family were local carpenters who provided the wooden boards used to transport bodies for the village elders.

The family gradually started getting more involved with the planning and organisation of the funerals, and in 1690 set up a small shop.

By the 19th century the business was flourishing, and the family were able to expand by buying several small funeral firms.

When Queen Victoria died in 1901 the Royal Family turned to the Field Family to conduct her funeral.

They were also the trusted arrangers of the funerals of the Duke of Wellington and King Edward VII.

They experienced more growth in the 1950s when they spotted a new demand for cost-effective funeral options and began offering cremations.

They also pioneered the pre-paid funeral plan, making it more affordable and accessible.

Today – more than three hundred years since operations began – the Field family is in its tenth generation.

Moving from London to Sussex in the 1970s, CPJ Field is based in Burgess Hill and the company employs 175 people across 38 branches serving the whole of the Home Counties.

It’s the ninth oldest family business in the UK.

So how has this once small family set-up managed to survive and thrive for so long?

Today the business is still actively owned and managed by the Field family with five members on the Board of Directors.

The current generation includes managing director Jeremy Field and the youngest person to be appointed to the role of president of the National Association of Funeral Directors.

His brother Charlie Field holds the post of deputy chairman and is also a non-executive director of the UK’s Institute for Family Business.

Completing the trio is their sister Emily Hendin who heads up the company’s community engagement.

The family firmly believes that they are custodians of the business for the next generation, rather than “owners”.

On the responsibility of taking over a family business, Charlie said: “We have all grown up around and in the company – it’s been a constant in all of our lives, as it has for our family members before us.

“It’s our responsibility to build on the hard work of previous generations so that the next one has the opportunity to make their mark in the way that we have.”

Despite the family’s longevity in this often traditional sector, they see it as their responsibility to respond to changing societal trends and act as a champion for innovation.

“We’re very lucky that we don’t feel encumbered or burdened by history.

“If you look back through history, the legacy of our family is about being dynamic, innovative and pioneering.

“The one pressure we do face is to make sure the business stays light on its toes and can react to the feedback of our customers and colleagues.”

The focus on the human touch is key. The current generation are on a mission to bring the compassion back to the hardest day of people’s lives.

Remembering that every life is unique is central to CPJ Field’s approach.

Charlie feels that such an attitude has been central to the company’s longevity.

“If we weren’t able to respond to the things we are asked to do by bereaved families, to consumer need, how would we still be in business after this length of time?”

But what does the future hold for this long running firm?

“There is a new generation of Fields growing up – seven in total.

“But there’s certainly no pressure on them to join the family trade.

“We have an exceptional team of dedicated and compassionate colleagues – so we’re confident the business will be in good hands for years, maybe even centuries, to come.”