Brian Parsons 2013

University of Bath, UK

From Brooke Street to Brookwood: nineteenth-century funeral reform and St Alban the Martyr Holborn Burial Society

Largely prompted by the expansion of the urban population during the nineteenth century, in just over a seventy year period commencing 1830 the whole arena of death and disposal was transformed through legal, social, economic and religious influences. Legislation regulated the supply of bodies for anatomical dissection, death registration and the establishment of proprietary and Burial Board cemeteries along with formalising the function of the coroner, the construction of mortuaries and the first cremations. In addition, social commentators, individuals and organisations promoted an agenda of funeral reform, such as the Church of England Burial, Funeral and Mourning Reform Association and the Guild of All Souls, that were anxious to reduce funerary expenditure by eliminating ostentation. Supplied by a burgeoning number of undertaking firms, obsequial requirements were driven by the fear of a pauper’s burial, a situation that generated accusations of manipulation and exploitation. While friendly societies existed to provide a savings mechanism to help finance the funeral, research indicates that in the 1860s a small number of burial societies were also founded by Anglo-Catholic churches. Commencing with a brief survey of the areas of change concerning the disposal of the dead during the period 1830-1900, this paper then reviews the work of the reforming organisations before examining the activities of the burial society attached to the church of S Alban the Martyr, Holborn in London.


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