City of London reuses graves to avert burial crisis

Allpress 3The BBC has an interesting article today about re-using old graves, one proposed solution to the chronic shortage of burial space in the UK, and in London in particular. The City of London Cemetery has been doing this: grave owners have been contacted about graves which have not been used for 75 years or more, which were known to have space for two more burials. At least 30 of the newly-available plots have now been chosen as someone's final resting place.

Personally I rather like this idea. It's preferable to all the alternatives: cramming new graves into space that was once chapel or pathway, cutting down trees, or creating ever more cemeteries. London authorities have had the power since 2007 to "lift and deepen": remove old remains from a grave, dig it deeper, and then replace them together with new burials. But no one's yet used those powers: I think Gary Burks, Superintendant of the City of London Cemetery, is right when he says that "everyone is waiting for someone else to do it. Nobody wants to be the one in front of the camera when it happens."

But actually, I don't think there'll be a fuss. 75 years is a long time; the chance that someone is still visiting the grave is small. Memorials are being preserved (apparently); nothing is being lost, only added to.

And what no one else seems to be saying is that this may, in fact, be the preserver of our cemeteries. The early twentieth century, when the first Victorian cemeteries were filled and couldn't accept any more burials, is full of stories of financial crisis. The simple bottom line is that if cemeteries stop accepting people for burial, their major revenue stream is gone. If we can keep that money going for another 30 or 50 or 100 years, we stand a chance of averting the crisis in our own time.

But what I really loved about this story was Mr Burks' anecdote about when the re-use story first broke:

On one occasion, an Irish lady did get in touch to say 'are you going to reuse my grave, then?' After it was explained she said "Well, that's fine, I don't mind what you do once I'm dead.'

More posts about this cemetery

Filed under: 21st Century London Cemeteries .

2 Responses to City of London reuses graves to avert burial crisis

  1. P. Pakozdi says:

    Is there a central registry in London where I can check on a recent burial. I do not know the name of the cemetary.

    Thank you

    P. Pakozdi

    • Londoncems says:

      Hi P.,

      There isn't really - the closest you'll get is
      but I'm not sure how quickly that gets updated - assuming that the relevant cemetery is included in the database. If you have an idea of the area of London concerned, you'd probably be better contacting local authority cemetery offices. They may charge you to do a search, or they may have times when you can go and check the records for yourself. Or - if it's *very* recent - you might also find the information by speaking to local funeral directors (I've never tried that, so I don't know how much information they'll give out).

      I'm assuming that when you say "burial", it's definitely a burial - around 75% of UK deaths are now followed by cremation, so that may be a possibility too, which of course means there isn't necessarily a burial site at all. (I don't have any data on what percentage of cremations are followed by burial of the ashes versus scattering or retention by loved ones.)

      If I can be any more help, let me know. Can suggest possible cemeteries if you let me know what area of London we're talking about.

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