It is important to distinguish between different types of burial space in the UK. For a definitional framework please view the burial typology.
Cemeteries can and should be distinguished from churchyards. Churchyards, traditionally, are places of burial connected to churches either physically or through their ownership by the Church of England. Their use has been recorded since the eighth century. It is useful to think of cemeteries as a more recent ‘invention’ of the eighteenth century, where ownership tends to be secular.
Cemeteries and churchyards operate under different kinds of legislation. Churchyards are consecrated tracts of land subject to Church or Canon law. Certain types of activity within a churchyard – such as reserving burial space or removing headstones – require ‘permission’ or faculty. Cemeteries may contain consecrated sections, which are also subject to Church law. However, for the most part cemeteries are managed under civic legislation.
Scotland’s history of burial is not the same as in England, and a separate set of laws relates to kirkyard ownership and management. There are also some differences in Wales with regard to churchyard ownership.
It is possible to argue that, in material terms, churchyards and cemeteries constitute two different kinds of burial space. Churchyards are generally small in extent, and perhaps cover no more than a couple of acres (0.8 hectares). Cemeteries are often laid out on a bigger scale: the largest are over 100 acres in size (40 hectares), although in rural areas cemeteries might be smaller than the larger churchyards and this can create confusion. Further, some cemeteries might contain chapels for conducting burial services and these may look like parish churches, and some churchyards might be located some distance from a church and contain no buildings at all.