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What Is Cremation?

Cremation, reduction to ashes of human corpses. The two ordinary processes of cremation employed in the West are (1) carbonization in a reverberating furnace, the body being resolved into lime dust by direct contact with the fire, and the noxious effiuvia consumed in a second or outer chamber; (2) the method of the Siemens regenerative or hot-blast furnace, in which the combustible gases from the body itself meet hot air or gas generated in another furnace.

A society for the promotion of cremation, with Sir Henry Thompson as president, was founded in 1874. In 1887 it purchased a site at Woking, but was prevented from operating by a Home Office ban. In 1884, however, a man was indicted at Cardiff assizes for having attempted to burn the corpse of his child instead of burying it. Mr Justice Stephen directed the jury that to burn a dead body instead of burying it was not an offense unless it was done in such a way as to amount to a public nuisance. Accordingly, in 1885 the society opened Britain's first crematorium on the Woking site.

Cremation was regulated by the Cremation Act 1902 and the statutory rules and orders made thereunder. By that act burial authorities, including local authorities, maintaining a cemetery under the Public Health (Interments) Act 1879, may provide and maintain crematoria.

No crematorium may be constructed nearer to any dwelling, than 183 meters without consent of the owner or occupier, or within 18 m of the highway, or in the consecrated part of the burial ground of any burial authority. The Act of 1902 expressly exempts any minister from the obligation to perform a burial service at or after cremation. The regulations made under the Act require two medical certificates, one supplied by the doctor in attendance at the death, the second (confirmatory) by an independent medical practitioner. To arrange for cremation the executor or near relative should instruct the undertaker to that effect and obtain from him the statutory forms required as given in the Cremation Regulations issued in 1930.

Cremation was for a long time disapproved of by the Roman Catholic Church, but attitudes are now more favorable and the practice is now legal within the Church.

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