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The History of English Cemeteries and Gravestones

a-brief-history-of-cemeteries-and-gravestones-in-england-an-easy-learning-and-revision-guide

Introduction

Cemeteries, Ruins, Graves, Headstones, Tombstones, Burial Grounds, Shrines, and Tombs. To some it is a somber subject to others it is where they find peace, solace, comfort, and tranquility. For others it is a place of history, mystery, and heritage. What ever your reasons I do hope you find what you are looking for.

a-brief-history-of-cemeteries-and-gravestones-in-england-an-easy-learning-and-revision-guide
a-brief-history-of-cemeteries-and-gravestones-in-england-an-easy-learning-and-revision-guide
a-brief-history-of-cemeteries-and-gravestones-in-england-an-easy-learning-and-revision-guide

Cemeteries

In present days Cemeteries, Churchyards and Burial Grounds are part of a network of green spaces in Cities, towns, and villages. They offer a special place for quiet, meditation, reflecting, and contemplation.

The establishing of cemeteries in the mid 19th Century reflected the unpleasant nature of urban Churchyards, which were overcrowded with burials.

The first early public cemetery was opened in 1804 in Paris. This became influential in future English cemetery designs.

a-brief-history-of-cemeteries-and-gravestones-in-england-an-easy-learning-and-revision-guide
a-brief-history-of-cemeteries-and-gravestones-in-england-an-easy-learning-and-revision-guide

The earliest interdenominational cemetery opened in 1819 in England in was the RosaryCemetery in Norwich.

In the 1820s, most of the cemeteries were established by nonconformists. They tended to be set in areas with fast growing populations e.g. Liverpool and Manchester.

Further major cemeteries established in the 1830s were by mainly private companies. Again, they were in areas with larges populations e.g. Newcastle, Birmingham, York, and London, which had six.

a-brief-history-of-cemeteries-and-gravestones-in-england-an-easy-learning-and-revision-guide

The first cemetery in Leeds was established in 1835. The land was unconsecrated and was for use by Dissenters.

In 1837, the first publicly funded cemetery was opened in Exeter. Publicly funded cemeteries were a rarity all through the 1840s.

A Cholera epidemic in 1831 killed over 52,000 people in Britain. This brought the issue of cemetery overcrowding to the general public and government. Private cemeteries were not enough, and, it was then the case that, these only catered for the wealthy.

a-brief-history-of-cemeteries-and-gravestones-in-england-an-easy-learning-and-revision-guide

Cemetery building increased in England throughout the 1840s, with most serving urban populations and still being built by private companies. Many cemeteries were informal in layout but did adhere to a grid pattern for burial plots. However, dissatisfaction with these private companies was still mounting.

Finally, in 1847 The Cemeteries Clause Act provided guidelines for the establishment and running of commercial cemeteries.

After a further cholera epidemic in 1848, the government was forced to act. On the 31st of August 1848, the first Public Health Act received the Royal Assent. This laid the foundations for all subsequent public health measures and was the beginning of the legislative process that would establish public cemeteries throughout Britain.

a-brief-history-of-cemeteries-and-gravestones-in-england-an-easy-learning-and-revision-guide

The Act also created a General Board of Health with powers to appoint officials and inspectors and create local boards of health (although London was exempt instead coming under the Metropolitan Commission of Sewers). The boards were also given powers relating to the burial of the dead.

A series of Acts were passed in the 1850s. These became known as the “Burial Acts”. These established a national system of public cemeteries. The “Burial Board” was responsible for the management of a cemetery, for fixing fees and charges and the sale of grave plots. These cemeteries would have grounds consecrated for Anglican use, and grounds unconsecrated for use by Nonconformists.

Once public authorities were given the power to provide decent places of burial, the building of new private cemeteries was no longer commercially viable, although several continued to be used. Almost no private cemeteries were established after the 1850s.

a-brief-history-of-cemeteries-and-gravestones-in-england-an-easy-learning-and-revision-guide
a-brief-history-of-cemeteries-and-gravestones-in-england-an-easy-learning-and-revision-guide

In 1884, The Cremation Society of England was founded. In 1885, to much opposition from the public and the clergy, the first cremation took place.

The Local Government Act of 1894 passed the responsibility of cemeteries to the newly formed Local Authorities at town, district, and parish level.

The Cremation Acts of 1900 and 1902 allowed public provision for individuals who wished to be cremated. The first municipal crematorium was opened in 1901 in Hull.

Following the Second World War cremations became widely used. In 2002, almost 70% of all disposals were by cremation.

a-brief-history-of-cemeteries-and-gravestones-in-england-an-easy-learning-and-revision-guide
a-brief-history-of-cemeteries-and-gravestones-in-england-an-easy-learning-and-revision-guide

Gravestones

The Gravestone, in its actual form, has been around for many thousands of years. They have become known by many names: Headstones, Tombstones, Grave markers, or Memorial Markers.

By Norman times Gravestone Memorials were usually square and slender, made of sandstone or slate.

As stated in the section on Cemeteries by the Nineteenth Century, with many churchyards almost full to capacity, the concept of public cemeteries was established.

The design of Gravestones also began to develop, with Headstones becoming larger, more solid and carrying more detailed inscriptions that added to the early simple name, age, and year of death.

a-brief-history-of-cemeteries-and-gravestones-in-england-an-easy-learning-and-revision-guide

Knights Templar

Prestwick Old Parish Church contains the grave of a Knights Templar.

Prestwick Old Parish Church contains the grave of a Knights Templar.

During the Victorian age there was the emergence of numerous elaborate memorial Gravestones. Many were sculptured from white marble, and the Cemeteries filled with carved, angels, cherubs, and ornate crosses.

Touching personalised inscriptions (or epitaphs), mainly of a religious nature, were commonplace.

Because of the materials used for gravestones in the Victorian period the eventually became damaged by growths of moss and lichen. By the late 1800s Headstones began to be made of soft grey granite instead of marble, although this weathered rather quickly.

Today the majority of Headstones are made from polished marble or granite and, as cemetery management becomes stricter, there is a continuing to simple Gravestones, lying flat on the ground.

a-brief-history-of-cemeteries-and-gravestones-in-england-an-easy-learning-and-revision-guide

Pet's Cemetery

a-brief-history-of-cemeteries-and-gravestones-in-england-an-easy-learning-and-revision-guide

Suggested Further Reading

© 2018 Brian OldWolf