Brian Parsons 2021

Independent researcher

Reading the ‘Order for the Burial of the Dead.’ Investigating the role of the Cemetery Chaplain

The post of cemetery chaplain emerged in parallel with the creation of the first wave of nineteenth century proprietary cemeteries. Appointed by companies and, from the 1850s, Burial Boards their function was solely to read the burial service. At cemeteries where a large number of interments took place in common graves, a ‘public reading time’ was held where unrelated families were present for a communal reading of the burial service by the chaplain. This continued until the dramatic shift towards cremation in the post-war years effectively brought an end to such ceremonies.The repetitive nature of the chaplain’s task, issues of appointment and territorial matters gave rise to comment and critics. Drawing from newspapers, interment registers, funeral directors’ records and Cremation Society publications, this paper examines the cemetery chaplain’s role between the 1830s and the 1960s.


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