Kelly Mayjonade-Christy 2017

Paris-Sorbonne University, France

George Alfred Walker’s burial reform discourse in mid-nineteenth-century England

George Alfred Walker was one of the very first sanitary reformers to be actively involved in the burial reform debate which took place in the 1840s in England. Although historical interest in Walker is not new, most historical works have focused on the sanitary reformer Edwin Chadwick. There are only a few academic articles specifically dedicated to Walker, and yet such articles never offer a thorough analysis of Walker’s contribution to the burial debate—although Peter Jupp had been calling for it since 1997 (The Changing Face of Death). This paper therefore seeks to fill in this historiographical gap by exploring Walker’s contribution to the burial reform debate through: first, the literature he published on the subject, that is to say from the publication of his first work in 1839 to his last work in 1852 which, significantly, corresponded to the passage of the first Burial Act. Secondly, through a study of influential network he had developed in the 1840s, as illustrated by journalists and newspapers editors who had rallied the Metropolitan Society for the Abolition of Burials in Towns that he had created in 1843. The first part of the paper will explore the rhetoric, methods and strategies Walker mobilized to organize public opinion in support of legislative action to reform graveyards. Fuelled by humanitarian, paternalistic, Evangelical, utilitarian, and economic concerns, the different aspects of his rhetoric will constitute the overarching themes explored throughout the paper. The second part of the paper will try to assess the impact of Walker’s Metropolitan Society for the Abolition of Burials in Towns and its influence, as well as those of its members, in promoting burial reform and propagating Walker’s ideas.


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