1819 Church Building Act

The Church Building Act, also known as the ‘Million Act’ (58 Geo. III, c.45.) was passed in response to concern that that insufficient accommodation was available in existing churches in areas of substantial population growth. An initial sum of £1m was granted to facilitate new church building, with an additional sum of £0.5m added in 1824. The Church Building Act set up the Church Building Commission, which had responsibility for distributing funds.

The Act was associated with other enactments that responded to urban changes brought by the Industrial Revolution in the first of the nineteenth century. These included the creation of new parishes through subdivision of larger parishes. The subdivision of parishes created new vestries that were later empowered to set up burial boards.

The reason why this Act is so important is that many of the new churches had churchyards. Between 1818 – close to the date of the first cemetery in Manchester in 1819 – and 1856, when the Church Building Commission ceased to operate, around 800 new burial sites were created.

In England, cemeteries were established in locations where new space for interment was often already being augmented by new churchyard provision. Some of these churches have since been demolished, and their churchyards might now only be ‘pocket parks’ in the urban landscape.

Additional reading

Port, M.H. (1961) Six Hundred New Churches: A Study of the Church Building Commission, 1818-1856, and its Church Building Activities, London: SPCK.

Port gives a useful list of all the churches funded under the Church Building Act.

Rugg, J., Stirling, F. and Clayden, A. (2013) ‘Churchyard and cemetery in an English industrial city: Sheffield, 1740-1900’, Urban History, 41:4, 627-646.

This paper outlines how, in Sheffield, a mixture of new burial sites – churchyards, churchyard extensions and a cemetery – was created to meet the needs of a rapidly expanding population.

Victorian church with headstones crammed in the foreground.

British History

Search the bibliography for further material on 19th and 20th century cemetery and crematorium history.