The cemetery movement (ca. 1825-1850) was partly a reaction to the decay of Anglican churchyards and crypts, particularly in cities. Through private capital, promoters built cemeteries independent of parochial authorities, fuelled by a demand from wealthy urban classes and Nonconformists for alternative burial options. However, the Church’s reaction to these projects proved uneven: at a time when State-sponsored church construction was at its zenith, some viewed cemeteries as undermining the church’s spiritual monopoly over the dead, while others took a pragmatic approach, cutting deals for the managing companies to compensate local rectors, guaranteeing the clergy’s funereal revenue would survive the decay of burial infrastructure. In Bath, first contact with the cemetery movement came in 1836, when the state of churchyards prompted eminent gentlemen to attempt a joint-stock project, which the rectors conspicuously declined to support. Instead, in a rare show of entrepreneurial agency, three rectors created cemetery projects of their own in the following two decades, which entrenched their moral and administrative authority over the parish’s dead. But such manoeuvres, which gained aristocracy and vestry support at the time, ultimately caused vital relationships between rector and parish to fray, cascading into mistrust and even protracted conflicts over ownership of the land and control of its institutions. The unusual funereal feudalism of rectoral cemeteries in Bath thus makes for a fascinating insight into the interplay of moral economy, clergy revenue and Church reform during the cemetery movement and early cemetery reform.
Tristan Portier 2023
UMR Telemme-CNRS, Université d'Aix-Marseille
Cemeteries and the Established Church in Bath (UK) (1836-1864) [v]
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