THE family who own the oldest firm in Cradley Heath are now into their seventh generation since the business was established, and a recently unearthed photograph means they can now display the last six levels of the family tree side by side.
That family business is H Cope, Funeral Directors, who despite the huge upheaval in the town in recent years have continued plying their old trade. When their well-known shop in Cradley Heath High Street was earmarked for demolition with the coming of a huge new supermarket, they upped sticks and set up half a mile up the road towards Old Hill in the spacious old Midland Electric Company buildings.
The firm's origins are so far back as to be quite vague even to the family, but it's known that there were Copes working with wood back in the 1700s, and while the joinery and cabinet making continued right up until the early 21st century, it was the funeral business, established in the 1800s, which made Copes locally famous.
The family once operated from just past the Four Ways, or Spinners End as it was always known. But for about 80 years their shop was at 185 High Street, just a short stroll from where Bugle House stands today.
That traditional terrace shop front bore the name H Cope Limited, and most assumed the initial stood for Horace, who was born in 1919 and was well-known by most Cradley Heath folk. In truth, the H predated Horace by years.
"It probably stood for Herbert," says Keith Cope, who is at the helm today, "though there were a lot of Horaces going back into the 1800s."
It is Herbert Cope whose distinctive features – white beard and black hat – are captured in the recently restored photograph. Herbert inherited the firm from his father (first name unknown) and it has passed down the line via his son Wilfred, then to the latter's nephew Horace.
Horace's son Keith didn't initially follow his father into the business, working in industry for years and coming into the fold relatively late. But Keith's son Richard, who now works alongside him, was drafted in by his grandfather before he was even out of school.
"I started in the school holidays," Richard said, "sweeping up and doing the jobs nobody else wanted to do. My grandad couldn't bear seeing me doing nothing!"
Richard now has a young son, William, who is already keeping the family tradition alive with his middle name. He was christened William Lashford Cope, in honour of his late great-grandfather Lashford Cope.
Another well-known Cradley Heath character, many assumed he was part of the funeral business, but in fact he never was, choosing to work in engineering while his brother Wilfred headed the family firm. His name is forever linked with it though; the current premises were renamed Lashford House in his memory.
Young William Cope, not yet two years old, could well go on to represent the seventh (at least) generation of Copes in the Cradley Heath business. But they're not going to force his hand.
"He'll do what he wants to do!" says Keith.
Is this a record? Do you know any family firms who are in their eighth generation or more? If so email editor@blackcoun trybugle.co.uk or log on to www.blackcountrybugle.co.uk or write to us at The Bugle, 41 High Street, Cradley Heath, B64 5HL.