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A certain problem here

Cemeteries are running out of space to bury the dead, local authorities have warned, prompting calls for an overhaul of archaic legislation to prevent deepening funeral poverty for families.

The disposal of human remains is governed by a complex set of legislation in England and Wales dating to the Victorian era, which prevents graves being reused.


Yet the issue is becoming more pressing not only because more local authorities are running out of space, but also because funeral costs are rapidly rising as a result.

“We can’t keep building new sites, there isn’t the space available,

Britain’s a pretty big place. There is, in fact, plenty of space. Buy a few fields off some farmer, change the planning permission, voila. Which is, of course, how the Victorians solved the very same problem. Declare an area a cemetery, build a road to it, stick up a chapel and you’re done. Or, in London, perhaps a train line:

For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen,
Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green.

20 thoughts on “A certain problem here”

  1. Seem to recall reading an article a couple of days ago about construction of the cross London rail link. 3,500 human remains (black death plague) were removed from beneath the city and interred in Essex.

  2. The way to go is for enterprising farmers to change land use. My missus and her mother are interred in a “Garden of Remembrance” in Herefordshire. It is a secular spot, but they had a proper Christian service beforehand. They cater for both ashes and stiffs the departed, the proviso being that coffins or urns are biodegradable.

  3. Anybody know why the Victorians were so squeamish about grave reuse? It used to be that after a grave was old enough for there to be only bones in it, it would be dug up and the bones either laid in an ossuary or burnt.

  4. @ Arthur the cat
    There’s money in them stiffs.

    after a grave was old enough for there to be only bones in it, it would be dug up and the bones either laid in an ossuary or burnt.

    I’ve had to deal with this. About 4 years ago, brother of a friend was shot off his moto on the Cali-Armenia highway. A drugs connection is not unsuspected. Since hers is a poor family in a poor barrio of a poor Colombian town out in the boonies, they didn’t have the resources to cope with the outcome. Nor did she. So in a fit of generosity I paid for his funeral. Wind the clock forward a couple of years & I get sent a photo of the subject of this tale in his box. He was far from quite done. Apart from having mutated from latino to negro, he didn’t look much different from family photographs. I even recognised the shirt. I am now advised they’re contemplating digging him up again for another look. I seem to be regarded as the responsible party here.
    Catholics. Utterly inexplicable.

  5. Theophrastus (2066)

    Suitable sites for inhumation are not that common. A key factor is avoiding contamination of the water table through leaching. (Similarly, you cannot bury livestock anywhere you choose.) Then allowance has to be made for access and parking for visitors, corteges and maintenance machinery.

    Cremated remains do not AFAIK pose any risk of contamination of the water table. So clearly many more sites could be identified for cremated remains, though access and parking concerns would remain.

  6. ‘… which prevents graves being reused.‘

    My understanding is, in London anyway, grave sharing is commonplace. The first one goes in deeper than the normal 6 feet, then up to two more can be stacked there on over time.

    Then there is cremation or is that now banned to ‘stop’ climate change?

  7. Correct JohnB. Usual practice was to buy (lease?) the plot with the capacity required. I’m pretty sure I’ve inherited a family one. (Being the final surviving member of the family) I think the periodic upkeep costs came out of a trust set up for the purpose. I believe there’s at least one space vacant in the penthouse as you might say. Next box down would be my great grandmother. Not saying I’m the slightest bit interested. Don’t even know where the paperwork is or who the trustees are. It’d all be 70 years old.

  8. OT but dead related.
    I thought I’d have a wander around on Streetview, see if that London cemetery still exists & not been converted into a housing estate. It hasn’t. But retracing once familiar paths – as you do – I noticed the small war memorial near the station’s vanished. It’s now just a paved area where is was a small road off with a triangular island had a horse trough for the cab horses used to wait there. And the war memorial. Commemorated Boer War* fallen & some names from WW1. Not something I’d forget because my grandfather was in the ANZACS at Gallipoli & then Ypres. But gone like it never existed. Quite pisses me off that does. The result of the area now being virtually a suburb of Karachi?

    *As do some of the road names around there the battles.

  9. Just imagine the horror of a world where you register all births and only have 70-80 years to prepare for their deaths (NHS care notwithstanding)

    It’s just all so random and unpredictable

  10. But gone like it never existed. Quite pisses me off that does. The result of the area now being virtually a suburb of Karachi?

    Hopefully they just moved it to where it might be appreciated.

    It’s interesting though – at what point does an important memorial to our glorious fallen war heroes become just another worn stone slab of distant history?

  11. Allthegoodnamesaretaken

    I believe Jewish cemeteries cease to be ‘consecrated land’ 100 years are the last burial.

    Sounds like a good idea.

  12. One of the problems is that as soon as you identify that a site is suitable for a cemetary it tells the planning authority that is is valuable land, and can be used for something more money-making.

    We identified a couple of farmer’s fields as ideal for our next local cemetary. Close to the main road, a ideal layby created when the road was straightened, on a bus route, 500yds up the road from the existing cemetary, close to the sewage works so unstuitable for housing….

    The land owner – the water company – and the borough council saw the interest in the land and changed it’s usage to Housing. There’s now an estate of 150+ houses being built there. The borough has proposed to use a playing field down a narrow back road, down a steep hill, losing yet another local playing field.

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