Fiona Stirling 2007

University of Sheffield, UK

Grave re-use: understanding the impact on the cemetery landscape and its community

In 2001, the House of Commons Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee published its findings following an inquiry into UK cemeteries.  One of their key recommendations was: ‘if the public are to continue to have access to affordable, accessible burial in cemeteries fit for the needs of the bereaved, there appears to be no alternative to grave re-use’. Cemeteries were first established during the Victorian period to tackle problems of poor sanitation and lack of churchyard space in cities.  Re-use had been common in UK churchyards for hundreds of years, but burial acts introduced during the 1850s made it illegal.  This gave rise to the notion of burial in perpetuity which has resulted in a landscape that is socially and economically unsustainable.  Many cemeteries incorporate vast areas of old burial which generate no income, are no longer visited and are poorly maintained.  Theoretically, re-use seems straightforward, but UK cemeteries were never designed to be re-used.  Consequently, potential areas for re-use are unlikely to be easily identified or conveniently grouped.  Moreover, cemeteries also provide important sources of urban greenspace and ecological habitat and can be historically significant. This research aims to investigate the implications and feasibility of introducing grave re-use, using case studies from Sheffield’s burial provision.  The project uses GIS to pull together a range of data including historic maps and burial records, to reveal and help understand the complex development of the cemetery landscape and to facilitate discussions with cemetery professionals regarding individual sites and their concerns surrounding re-use.


The Cemetery Research Group runs two events a year: in May and in November. Follow the links and send in an abstract