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The family behind Darwen’s oldest business and their connection to the Queen’s funeral

When Gregg Dabrowski’s father, Erazm, had the option of moving to Australia, Canada or the UK after serving with Polish forces in World War II, his decision to go to Merseyside was one that paved the way for his family’s future.

Despite his military service, Erazm was an artist by trade and he met his future wife when she auditioned to be his assistant. The couple then moved from Liverpool to Parbold and when Gregg and his sister were born they also joined the family business and performed in shows.

After Erazm had a stroke when Gregg was just 17, the act was “broken” and Gregg was forced to change careers. He started working as a Blue Coat at Pontins in Southport, but the seasonal income meant that for several months of the year Gregg did not earn any money.

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As fate would have it, a friend of Gregg’s worked in the funeral industry and told him it was “right up his street”. Despite his initial reluctance, Gregg began working part-time for a Blackburn funeral director and in 1994 he was ‘poached’ by Edwin Ainsworth owners in Darwen.

“I started with a view to taking over as manager when the then manager retired in 2000, but we decided to buy the business,” Gregg told LancsLive. “We re-mortgaged our house and now we own the business.”

Gregg’s wife, Trish, has an equally remarkable story of how she got involved in the funeral industry. “When the career woman talked to us at school she showed us a job listing and when I saw ‘funeral director’ I said ‘I want to do that,'” said Trish.

“She said I couldn’t because I was a woman. I started training as a child care nurse, but my grandfather died and the undertaker was a woman, so I told my parents I wouldn’t go back to college and followed my dream.”

An old image of the company’s base from the days when horses were used to pull the coffins

The couple’s daughter, Melissa, works alongside her parents in the company’s purpose-built building in Church Bank Street. Incredibly, the business has been based on the site since 1871, with their hearse and limousines – named James, Edwin and Edna – parked in the attached garage.

It was only after the family took over Edwin Ainsworth’s that they discovered it was Darwen’s oldest business. A local historian, having done extensive research, revealed that the funeral director dated back to 1856 with J Houghton the Saddler and James Gibson DIY, both still extant, afterwards.

The company’s hearse origins led the family to travel to Edinburgh and then London to view the Queen’s coffin following her death earlier this month. It was made by the same company responsible for the vehicle used to transport Queen Elizabeth II’s coffin and as the Dabrowskis are also familiar with the undertakers involved in state funerals, it seemed fitting to honor them.

Edwin Ainsworth's funeral car fleet
Edwin Ainsworth’s funeral car fleet

Gregg, Trish, Melissa and her two-year-old son Oscar queued for around 10 hours in central London over the weekend. Although Oscar is incredibly patient and proudly wears his three-piece suit, the family were advanced in the queue and walking past the queen’s coffin in state at Westminster Hall was a proud moment.

“It was kind of surreal because it was so quiet,” Gregg said with Trish adding, “You see in the footage people are looking at the coffin after we passed and we did the same. It’s because you’re like ‘did I look at the crown?’ and so you look back for one last look.”

Although a lot has changed in the funeral industry over the past 30 years since Edwin Ainsworth took over, Gregg and Trish are delighted that their daughter Melissa is now involved in the business after starting to write funeral orders. service in 2017. Oscar isn’t quite so sure yet though.

“He wants to be a policeman or anything to do with cars, but he’s still only young!” Trish added.

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