Peter C. Jupp 2008

University of Durham, UK

The Council for the Disposition of the Dead, 1931-1939: a cul-de-sac for funeral reform

By 1930 the campaign for cremation was fifty-six years old. Yet the persistence of the British burial tradition had confounded most attempts by cremation’s promoters to persuade the British to adopt cremation as an alternative to burial. In 1930 over 99% of funerals involved burial. The Council for the Disposition of the Dead (CDD) was a new initiative of the Cremation Society, intended to promote cremation as one of several funeral reforms. These reforms would be pursued in cooperation with a wide range of other organisations both within funeral service and beyond, including those concerned with public health, local government and the environment. The CDD was incorporated in 1934. Of its four aims, the third read, ‘The improvement of the status of those concerned with the disposal of the dead’. The paper suggests that the CDD found some of the funeral directing organisations among its most responsive allies. The decision was taken to make the compulsory registration of funeral directors the CDD’s first task. The paper will describe the opposition encountered to registration and the preparation of the ‘registration’ Bill presented to the House of Lords in June 1938. The Lords rejected the second reading of the Bill and the CDD was wound up in 1939. The paper draws upon the CDD files in the Cremation Society archives in Durham University It analyses the CDD’s origins, aims and methods, its supporters and opponents, the evidence it adduced for funeral reform, and its eventual failure. Whilst concluding that the CDD eventually proved a cul-de-sac in interwar funeral reform, the paper suggests that the issues raised by the CDD helped promote a climate for funeral reform in the UK which would eventually bear fruit in the changed circumstances of the post-war Welfare State.


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