1902: Cremation Act

It took many years of lobbying for the government to pass the Cremation Act in 1902. The ‘Act for the Regulation of the Burning of Human Remains, and to enable Burial Authorities to Build Crematoria’ (2 Edw. 7, c.8.) extended powers to burial authorities to ‘include the provision and maintenance of crematoria’. The Act specified that no crematorium should be located closer than 200 yards to any domestic residence.

The Act also defined the legal framework for cremation including the requirement that two doctors sign the medical certificates as a measure to guard against cremation being used to obscure evidence of murder. From this point, local authorities were encouraged to establish cemeteries. ‘Early adapters’ included the City of London (Manor Park, 1904), Leeds (Lawnswood, 1905), Bradford (Sholemoor, 1905) and Sheffield (City Road, 1905).

The Cremation Society of Great Britain website lists crematorium opening dates.

The Cremation Society archive at Durham University contains considerable material on the progress of cremation in towns and cities throughout the UK, including newspaper cuttings and correspondence with local cremation societies.

Primary historical data that traces the establishment of a local crematorium often includes comment on existing burial services in that locality, and attitudes towards burial generally.

Additional reading

Grainger, H. (2005) Death Redesigned. British Crematoria: History, Architecture and Landscape, Reading: Spire Books Ltd.

This text discusses individual crematoria throughout the UK, with an emphasis on architecture and design. There is a gazetteer with entries on every crematorium.

Herbert Jones, P. (1945, 3rd edition) Cremation in Great Britain, London: The Pharos Press.

Herbert Jones, General Secretary of the Cremation Society, published gazetteers listing each crematorium, including a history, photographs, and scale of charges.

Jupp, P.C. (2006) From Dust to Ashes. Cremation and the British Way of Death Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan

Rugg, J. (2016) ‘Radical departures: changing landscapes of death in Leicester’ in R. Rogers and R. Madgin (eds) Leicester: A Modern History, Lancaster: Carnegie Publishing, 137-155.

This chapter discusses the introduction of cremation in Leicester, an ‘early adapter’ of the technology, demonstrating the kind of material available for local study of this subject.

British History

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