Peter Jupp 2007

University of Durham, UK

A tale of two scandals: burial and cremation in Aberdeen, 1899 and 1944

In 1899 the manager of a privately-owned cemetery appeared in court in Aberdeen. He had ensured sufficient burial space by exhuming and relocating coffins without authority or permission. The manager was imprisoned for six months and the city of Aberdeen made aware of the conditions in which the poor of the city were buried. The cremationist Dr Robert Farquharson, MP for East Aberdeen, used the occasion to press for a crematorium, cremation having been legalised in the UK in 1884. A crematorium was not built, neither were burial conditions much improved. In 1944, a court heard how the manager of the privately-owned crematorium in Aberdeen (opened in 1938) had stolen 1044 coffin lids and two coffins, passing a proportion of them on to a local funeral director. He was imprisoned for three years. The case had immediate policy implications for the UK cremation movement. The paper first provides accounts of the two cases and then compares them according to a number of issues. These include: the rise of cremation in Scotland; the provision and ownership of cemeteries and crematoria; funeral costs and poverty; religious identity and clergy involvement. The two cases thus illustrate aspects of the growth of cremation and decline of burial in modern Scotland.


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