Julie Rugg 2012

University of York, UK

‘Casting into the great crucible of the present ferment all manner of time-honoured traditions’: burial legislation at the turn of the twentieth century

The first of the Burial Acts were introduced in the 1850s, and discussion of this legislation generally focuses on the mid-century period. However, it is arguably the case that the most radical of the Burial Acts was the penultimate Act, passed in 1900. This Act – unlike earlier Burial Acts – did not favour the interests of the Church of England and was decidedly secular in tone. Rather than presuming that each cemetery would be consecrated, with some unconsecrated space left available, the Act required that for each cemetery and each cemetery extension a case had to be made for consecration. Furthermore, the local parish priest would no longer benefit financially from burials taking place in the consecrated section, even those where the service was taken by another minister. The Burial Act 1900, together with three other key pieces of legislation, radically altered the legislative landscape for burial in the twentieth century. The Cremation Act of 1902 is reasonably familiar, but this paper also discusses the Local Government Act 1894 and the hugely important but entirely overlooked Public Health (Interment) Act 1879. These four acts operating in unison looked set to dismantle a centuries-old tradition of parish burial. However, secularity in principal did not necessarily lead to secularity in practice: exploration of the 1900 Act in operation shows continued and strong commitment to practice of consecration.


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