Our History | 60 Years of Cruse Bereavement Care

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Cruse Bereavement Care has been helping bereaved people for over 60 years. 

Scroll down to find out how Cruse began, how we expanded to help widowers, children and eventually all bereaved people, how we grew to a network which includes 5000 volunteers, how we've responded to national disasters and tragedies, and how we continue to adapt to meet the needs of those who are grieving in a changing world.


The "Cruse Clubs Counselling Service for Widows and their Families" was registered as a charity in October 1959.

Grief in 1959

The world was a difficult place for widows in 1959. A ‘stiff upper lip’ attitude to grief had developed across two world wars, replacing Victorian public mourning rituals and strong working class traditions. Widows also faced brutal economic hardship, and a society which didn't prepare women to take on the roles of breadwinner or head of the family. The support which the new Cruse Clubs provided was desperately needed. 

Margaret Torrie

Margaret Torrie became concerned with the plight of widows during her work as a social worker and while working with the Citizen’s Advice Service. She saw that the loss of a husband was often a major emotional, social and economic crisis, for the woman and for any children, and she decided to act. Margaret Torrie’s husband, Dr Alfred Torrie, was a psychiatrist and Quaker and served as chairman of Cruse. The on-going effects of their pioneering work have been felt by millions of bereaved people across 60 years.

Read Margaret Torrie’s account of How it all Began 

Early on an August morning in 1958 there came to me a quite unpremeditated call to do something for widows… With astonishment [my husband and I] read that there were two and a half million widows in England and Wales and that half a million of these were under fifty-four, mainly, we could assume, women bringing up families. I think then … we had our first premonition that the whole job might prove to be a very big one.

The origin of our name

The word “Cruse” comes from a story in the Bible (1 Kings 17). During a famine a widow shared her last meal with a hungry stranger – the prophet Elijah. Because of her kindness, from then on her earthenware jar – or ‘cruse’ – of oil was always miraculously full. 

Margaret Torrie said of the name Cruse that it “chose us … widows hated the term ‘widow’ and didn’t want to be known by it”. Despite the origins of the story, and an early emphasis on Christian consolation, Cruse is now a secular organisation and welcomes people of all faiths and none. 


The stereotype of the swinging 60s was far from the case for the widows joining Cruse Clubs at the start of the decade.

In the 60s widows faced considerable financial and practical challenges and there was very little information available to help them understand and cope with their grief. There were no mutual support groups, bereavement counsellors or advice books. Bereaved people were advised to keep busy, move on, and grieve privately in silence. But through the decade, as Cruse Clubs sprang up around the country, society was beginning to recognise the emotional needs of bereaved people.


Margaret and Alfred Torrie take part in the BBC World of the Widow radio programme, which looks into the nature of grief. They explain that the painful symptoms of grief are widely experienced and usually normal. Several widows are interviewed for the programme. One reports Cruse had been a great comfort as she had never known a bereaved person and had no idea what grief was like: "friends sympathise but I feel they don't really understand … You just can't explain the feelings [of grief] to others who have not experienced it".


One of the first and most influential personal accounts of bereavement is published. A Grief Observed by CS Lewis was published under the pseudonym NW Clerk, as Lewis didn’t want to be identified as the author. It is a powerful account of grief, faith and whether a return to normal is ever possible after being bereaved.

The first lines of C S Lewis's A Grief Observed:

No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing. At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.

The House Where Cruse Began, pastel by Margaret Torrie

For the first 17 years Cruse is run from Margaret Torrie’s home in Lion Gate Gardens, in the leafy borough of Richmond upon Thames. 

Cherry Greveson, Margaret Torrie’s daughter:

The routine began after breakfast when the dining room table would be cleared and the post opened and sorted. At 10am ‘the ladies’ arrived. These were the volunteer staff … who came to add their skills to keeping the whole enterprise going. As the number of Branches around the country increased, the work ‘mushroomed’ through the house, eventually occupying four rooms, and sometimes spilling over into a fifth. There might be as many as eight staff in at any one time.


The first Cruse branch opens in Scotland.


Dr Colin Murray Parkes, a psychiatrist specialising in bereavement, joins the Cruse council. Dr Parkes is involved in helping the community following the Aberfan disaster in 1966. A coal tip in South Wales collapses killing 144 people, 116 of them children. Also helping in Aberfan is Derek Nuttall, who was Chair of the community association in Aberfan for seven years before coming to work for Cruse.


Our name changes to "Cruse – the Organisation for Widows and their Children".


Elizabeth Kübler Ross publishes On Death and Dying. Her five stages of grief (originally intended to apply to someone facing their own death) have passed into public consciousness. Today, grief therapists and supporters use a number of more up-to-date models which don’t risk people feeling that their grief will pass through a number of predictable stages, ending in a tidy resolution.


Cruse continued to expand, opening more branches in England, Scotland and Wales.

In the 1970s several influential publications began to raise awareness and academic interest in bereavement. Cruse continued to expand, ending the decade with 53 branches over England, Scotland and Wales. Alfred Torrie died in 1972 and Margaret Torrie retired in 1977 but their influence and the organisation they founded ensures their legacy continues.


Margaret Torrie’s Begin Again: a book for women alone, is published and becomes the classic textbook for widows, offering sound advice about facing widowhood on emotional, practical and social levels. 

Margaret Torrie's introduction to Begin Again:

The most surprising aspect of my work among widows in the past ten years has been the discovery both of the size of the problem and of its general neglect. While all around us we have accepted the mushroom growth of social service and self-help organisations dealing with every possible problem of disability, three million widows have found no common voice and their many difficulties have been swept in to the background. 


Colin Murray Parkes’ Studies of Grief in Adult Life is published. The book is a pioneering examination of grief, grounded in academic research and theory but written so as to be accessible and helpful to a lay reader.


Alfred Torrie dies and Colin Murray Parkes is appointed Chair of Cruse.


Derek Nuttall is appointed National Organiser. He goes on to become Director in 1978, the role that is now known as Chief Executive.    


Cruse moves to Cruse House at 126 Sheen Road, Richmond. This eccentric late-Victorian house, featuring four stories, cramped rooms and narrow staircases, will be home to Cruse for over thirty years.


Margaret Torrie retires and is awarded an MBE for services to bereaved people.


By the end of the 80s Cruse Bereavement Care had extended support to all types of bereaved people.

In 1980 Cruse became ‘Cruse – the National Organisation for the Widowed and their Children’ recognising the need to support men as well as women. By the end of the decade our name had changed again, this time to ‘Cruse Bereavement Care’ and we had extended Cruse services to all bereaved people, whoever has died and whenever the death took place – a policy which continues to this day. Sadly, a number of tragedies took place during the decade, and Cruse was called on to give support to many of those who were bereaved or traumatised.


The Cruse journal Bereavement Care is launched. The first edition includes a reflection on the early days of Cruse from Margaret Torrie and an examination of the needs of those bereaved by suicide. 

Read the first edition

Bereavement Care Journal first editorial:

With this first issue of Bereavement Care we embark on a new publishing venture with the aim of providing all the people who work to help the bereaved with a forum for discussion and further education. Cruse has always been proud of being able to call on the dedicated help, generously given, of men and women many of whom spend their professional lives in the caring professions. They join with the widowed to give of their precious spare time to help make Cruse an organisation that has commanded international respect and admiration for the high quality of the work it does with the widowed and their families.


During the Falklands War Cruse is consulted on the issue of repatriation versus burial at sea for those members of the armed forces who die during conflict.


Cruse’s Silver Jubilee year. Her Majesty The Queen becomes our Royal Patron. A celebration is held at the Royal Albert Hall, attended by Her Majesty. Sir John Gielgud, Penelope Keith, Richard Briars, Wayne Sleep and others perform for volunteers from across the UK.

Journalist Bel Mooney recalls meeting the Queen:

I was presented with an award by the Queen. The handsome citation 'acknowledges with appreciation the special contribution made by Bel Mooney to the public understanding of bereavement and widowhood through articles published in the national press'. As I curtseyed, Her Majesty told me: 'It is very important to write about this serious subject because it affects so many people'. At the time, I wouldn’t have dreamt that one day I’d be an advice columnist on a national paper, answering letters about (among other things) loss.


We open our first branch in Northern Ireland. Over the 80s we expanded to the eight branches we still run today. Over the years Northern Ireland has been host to several ground-breaking projects.


The Cruse Cookery Book is published with recipes donated by volunteers and bereaved people. Recipes include Liver and Onions, Chicken Strognoff, and Vegetarian Hot Dutch Winter Salad.


A series of high-profile disasters with a tragic loss of life mar the second half of the decade. The Bradford fire disaster, Kings Cross fire, Zeebrugge, Lockerbie and Hillsborough each bring their own unique challenges when it comes to helping those left behind. 

In 1989 Cruse is asked by the Department of Health to set up a Disasters Working Party to learn lessons from the tragedies, and consider appropriate social and psychological provision for the future.


Cruse Director Derek Nuttall marks 27 years of Cruse with a fundraising walk crossing 27 Thames bridges. In following years he will go on to visit 28 places on the Monopoly board (with a double decker bus of supporters following) and undertake a walk over 30 locks and bridges on the River Thames for our 30th anniversary. 


Cruse hosts an International Conference on Grief and Bereavement in London, with 600 delegates from 24 countries.


Cruse support expanded further to include a helpline.

During the 90s our understanding of the process of grief developed further following some influential academic studies. There was increasing recognition that many bereaved people need support, and counselling became more regulated. In 1997 the unexpected death of Diana, Princess of Wales sparked a period of national mourning which challenged society’s attitude to public grief. By 1999 Cruse had a new development plan aiming for a new Area structure, and an organisation which can respond to the needs of bereaved people with a high-quality service including telephone and email support.


Derek Nuttall retires and is awarded the MBE for services to bereaved people. Alex Sandison takes over as Director, with Rosemary Pearce succeeding him in 1991.


The first Cruse helpline is set up. 


Rosemary Pearce and Mike Pearson

Mike Pearson succeeds Colin Murray Parkes as Chair of Cruse, joining Rosemary Pearce (Director). Colin Murray Parkes is appointed our Life President, a role he continues in to this day.


Colin Murray Parkes is awarded the OBE for services to bereaved people.


Fundraising is always both a challenge and vitally necessary, and in in 1994 a national fundraising campaign urged people to “Have a cuppa for Cruse”.  The campaign was launched at 11 Downing Street.


The Continuing Bonds theory of grieving questions the commonly held assumption that grieving involves “letting go” of our relationships with those who have died.  Klass, Silverman and Nickman argue that death ends a life, not necessarily a relationship. 


A new Cruse logo is chosen, incorporating the heartsease flower. 


Carole Easton takes on the role of Executive Director.


The Dual Process Model of Grief is developed by Margaret Stroebe and Henk Schut. The theory describes grief as a process of moving between two different ‘orientation’. In ‘loss orientation’ the grieving person is focused on their emotions, loss and the person who has died. At other times, in the ‘restoration orientation’, the griever is focussed on the changes and practical challenges they need to face to continue with life. The model adds to the growing awareness that grief is not a one-way journey or series of stages, and that people move in and out of different forms of grief, often over many years.


We celebrate Cruse’s Fortieth Anniversary. A reception at St James’ Palace is attended by Her Majesty The Queen.


Margaret Torrie dies. A Thanksgiving Service for her life and work is held in March 2000.

Rosemary Pearce, Director of Cruse 1991 to 1997:

I remember with great affection afternoons spent with Margaret Torrie at her home in Grayshott: looking round the garden, talking to her about the early days of Cruse.  Even as an elderly lady she was always ready with ideas and encouragement.


Cruse moved offices, launched websites, and supported people after 9/11.

During this decade Cruse's central office moved from Cruse House to new modern offices in Richmond. We launched our first websites for adults and young people and our journal Bereavement Care also moved to the publishers Taylor and Francis, and was published online for the first time. In 2009 we celebrated our Golden Jubilee, marking 50 years of supporting bereaved people. There were tragedies too, and Cruse was involved in helping after the terrorist attacks in New York and in London.


Our first website is launched, together with a special website for children and young people designed by a young people’s steering group. The website is called ‘rd4u’ which means the 'road for you' - the main aim of the site is to help young people find their own 'road' to dealing with their loss.


On 11 September 2001, terrorists fly two planes into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York. 2,998 people die. Following the attacks, we are asked by the Government to provide support (in collaboration with Family Liaison Officers from the Met Police) to those families from the UK who flew out to New York. 

Read Artie O'Hara's story including an account of Cruse support in New York after 9/11

Debbie Kerslake, Cruse Chief Executive 2008-2018:

I was in New York for eighteen days. Many people talked to me about the final phone call, going over and over the final words that were said to each other. For some, there was the pain of not having a final call, and the questions that surrounded this. Many went through the agony of trying to imagine how death came and whether it was drawn out.  People needed to feel that it was all right to show their raw anguish and to be open about their despair and their suicidal feelings. They needed to know that help was on hand and would always continue to be so.
I took two boys aged nine and seven whose father had been killed to leave their final messages next to his photo on the Bear Walk. The older child had watched on television as the plane hit the tower, knowing that his Daddy was in the building.



Anne Viney is appointed as Chief Executive.


Scottish branches devolve to form our sister organisation, Cruse Bereavement Care Scotland.


Cruse volunteers work at Heathrow Airport for ten weeks following the Tsunami in South East Asia, supporting those returning home to the UK. In the summer, volunteers take shifts at the Family Assistance Centre following the London Bombings, providing vital help to those who have been bereaved or traumatised.


We host the seventh International Conference on Grief and Bereavement in Contemporary Society. The conference takes place seven months after the tsunami of December 2004 killed 230,000 people, and a week after world leaders meet in Edinburgh to try to reduce the massive numbers of untimely deaths from AIDS, poverty and armed conflicts. Four days before the start, terrorist bombs bring London to a standstill. This does not deter over 400 delegates from coming to London from across Britain the globe.


Nigel Tricker takes over from Mike Pearson as Chair of Cruse.


We move from Cruse House on Sheen Road to new modern office in Victoria Villas – which remains our Central Office and home of the National Helpline today.


Dr Dora Black retires from the board of Bereavement Care Journal. Dr Black first became involved with Cruse in the 1970s, and was a child psychiatrist who pioneered new methods of support for families after the death of a parent.  She served on the Cruse Council from 1973 to 1987, was the Vice Chairman from 1986-90 and was a founding editor of Bereavement Care Journal.


Bereavement Care Journal finds a new home with publishers Taylor and Francis. The journal expands to nearly twice the size and the whole back catalogue is made available online for subscribers to access.


We celebrate our Golden Jubilee – 50 years of Cruse.  A royal reception at St James’ Palace is attended by Her Majesty The Queen. 

Olga Thomas-Bosovskaya:

One of the highlights of my time supporting Cruse was attending a special reception for Cruse’s Golden Jubilee at St James’s Palace in 2009. I was honoured to meet Her Majesty The Queen and present her with a CD of compositions I created for her and her family. This year to celebrate Cruse’s 60th anniversary I am composing a special song for an event later in the year that I will be recording this summer with an orchestra.


The decade's not over yet, but through the 2010s Cruse has continued to be a vital voice speaking out for bereaved people. 

In recent years Cruse has campaigned for bereavement benefits, bereavement leave, and against funeral poverty. We also played an important part in the raising standards of bereavement care, working with partners to publish the Bereavement Care Standards, and guidance on managing bereavement in the workplace. Our work was recognised when we were chosen to benefit from the Royal Wedding Charitable Gift Fund when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge married, and as one of the charities chosen as a Patron’s Hero during the celebrations of Her Majesty The Queen’s 90th birthday. 


We are chosen as one of 26 charities to benefit from the Royal Wedding Charitable Gift Fund. The fund is set up by The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge so that those wishing to give them a wedding gift can donate to their chosen charities in celebration of their marriage.


Cruse Cymru in Wales is awarded funding from the Wales Palliative Care Implementation Board to increase access to bereavement services for children and young people in Wales.


We are delighted to be chosen as one of the charities for The Times Christmas Appeal. As well as raising valuable funds, the paper publishes a series of case studies featuring those we have helped.


Fiona Edwards takes over from Nigel Tricker as Chair of Cruse.


We launch the Bereavement Care Service Standards together with the Bereavement Services Association. The Standards set out what needs to be addressed in order for services to be both safe and effective in meeting the needs of bereaved people.  


Workplace expert Acas publishes a new guide on managing bereavement in the workplace, produced in partnership with Cruse.  


We launch our new website for young people. Hope Again – young people living after loss is a place where young people aged 11-18 can share their stories about loss and begin to find ways of hoping again. The site was developed by members of the Cruse Youth Advisory Group in Northern Ireland.


We publish a new ‘Help & Hope’ booklet to help inform and support men who have been bereaved, with funding from the Big Lottery Fund in Northern Ireland through the Together For You project.


Our National Helpline becomes Freephone to make it easier for bereaved people to get support without cost being a barrier.


The Mall in London is transformed for its largest every street party to celebrate how Her Majesty The Queen has changed lives through her patronages of over 600 charities and organisations on the occasion of her 90th Birthday. It’s a particular honour for Cruse to be one of the few charities chosen as ‘Patron’s Hero’.


In March Prince William and Prince Harry speak out about the impact of bereavement on their lives, as we approach the 20th anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. Rio Ferdinand also shares his story of bereavement in a TV documentary, and the two events lead to an increase in men calling our helpline to speak about their experiences of bereavement.  


A number of major incidents take place in the Summer of 2017, shattering many lives. Nearly 100 lives are lost in the Manchester Arena Bombing and the Grenfell Tower fire and Cruse helps individuals and families through the events and afterwards. A team of Cruse volunteers was based at the Family and Friends Assistance Centre for nine months following Grenfell.

Lee Disson, son of Grenfell Tower Victim:

Dad’s death left a huge gap in my life. Cruse supported me via weekly meetings with a Cruse volunteer called Simon. I had a lot of anger which was becoming a problem, and whilst I still have a way to go, being able to speak with Simon has helped loads


Debbie Kerslake retires and Steven Wibberley is appointed as Chief Executive. Pamela Rutter becomes Chair of Cruse.


We celebrate the end of the Beyond Words Project in Northern Ireland. The Big Lottery-funded project project has pioneered some innovative peer-support based ways of helping bereaved people over the age of 60. We set up Friendship Groups across Northern Ireland, and produced an Accessibility Pack, to help those with communication difficulties and their carers, families and friends and professionals.


Cruse celebrates our 60th Anniversary with a number of special events including an annivesary conference in the Summer and a Royal Reception in October at St James's Palace, where Her Majesty The Queen attends and meets some of our volunteers.


We launch our Bereaved Customers First campaign at a November event at the BT Tower with customer service representatives from a range of different sectors. Our campaign asks businesses to reduce the emotional burden bereaved people are facing when contacting businesses to tell them a loved one has died.  


Sir Tony Hawkhead is elected as the new Chair of Trustees, pictured here with Chief Executive Steven Wibberley.

The future

What's next for Cruse?

Our Life President Colin Murray Parkes has called grief the price we pay for love. We can’t hope for a world without grief, but we continue to strive to meet our vision that everyone who needs support after someone dies will be able to find the help they need. In a changing and uncertain world Cruse will be here to help people understand their feelings, develop coping strategies, and return to every-day life, while remembering and celebrating the lives of those they have lost.

Read more stories of Cruse this anniversary year on our 60 voices of Cruse page

Steven Wibberley, Cruse Chief Executive:

In 2018 we adopted a new strategy, which we are calling Bereaved People First. We have ambitious plans to support even more bereaved people, when they need it, and in the ways most useful to them. I am excited to lead Cruse as we celebrate the past 60 years, and look forward to a future where every bereaved person has somewhere to turn when someone dies.