Edwin Chadwick.

Report on the sanitary conditions of the labouring population of Great Britain. A supplementary report on the results of a special inquiry into the practice of interment in towns. Made at the request of Her Majesty's principal secretary of state for the Home department online

. (page 15 of 27)
Online LibraryEdwin ChadwickReport on the sanitary conditions of the labouring population of Great Britain. A supplementary report on the results of a special inquiry into the practice of interment in towns. Made at the request of Her Majesty's principal secretary of state for the Home department → online text (page 15 of 27)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

them. And by the proposed measure the place of interments being removed,
not only without any securities for the adoption of new measures of
precaution, such as will be shown to be requisite in the formation, and
also in the management, of places of burial for a large population, and
the proposed machinery being such as to render it very nearly certain
that no improved arrangements can be executed in such burial-grounds,
the measure would simply effect the transference of common grave-yards
from the old to the midst of new suburbs; and this transference must be
accompanied by the creation of a new and apparently economical, but
really extravagantly expensive and permanently inferior, agency, for the
management of the new ground.

§ 106. These results admit of proof derived from the actual trial of a
system of parochial interments apparently differing in no essential
point, and especially in the nature of the agency and the scale of
establishments, from the plan proposed.

In the parishes of St. Giles-in-the-Fields, St. George, Hanover-square,
St. James, Westminster, and St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields, over-crowding of
the burial grounds within the parish, between forty and fifty years ago,
led the parish officers to obtain local acts for the establishment of
burial grounds in the suburbs. The spaces then obtained were apart from
any buildings. They are all now closely surrounded by them. The burial
grounds of the parish of St. Giles-in-the-Fields having been the subject
of an investigation before the Committee of the House of Commons, I have
not made any inquiries with relation to them. In the suburban burial
ground which belongs to the parish of St. George, Hanover-square, which
consists of two acres of land, the interments have been for many years
at the rate of about 1000 corpses per annum. It is now in the centre of
a dense town population. It has become the subject of complaints similar
to those made in respect to burial grounds in the ancient parts of the
metropolis; and it appears that there are equally good grounds for the
discontinuance of the practice of interment there, and for the selection
of a burial place at a greater distance, notwithstanding that the
payments from individuals produce to the collective funds of that parish
a surplus beyond the expenditure of the management of the ground.

§ 107. The arrangements for burial in the parishes of St.
Martin-in-the-Fields, which has a population of 25,000, and of St.
James, Westminster, which has a population of 37,000, where the suburban
burial grounds have not been crowded to the same extent, may be adduced
as a high class of examples of a change of practice to extra-mural or
suburban burials, and of management by a parochial machinery. In the
parish of St. James, Westminster—

The gross expenditure of the chapel and ground between the years
1789 and 1835 (46 years) amounted to £73,879 1_s._ 11_d._, and it is
estimated that the cost of maintaining the chapel and ground during
that period over and above the receipts was not less than £50,000,
the whole of which was drawn from the churchwardens under authority
of the Act of Parliament.

But the chapel attached to the burial ground of this parish has been
converted into a chapel of ease, for the accommodation of the
inhabitants of the parish where it is situate. The vestry clerk of the
parish states—

The pew rents, which formerly averaged only £150, now amount to
upwards of £500 per annum, while the burial fees have decreased, and
are still decreasing in amount.

The interments of the middle class and more wealthy among the
inhabitants of the parish of St. James, which do not take place
either in the vaults or grounds of or belonging to the parish, are
presumed to be made in the neighbouring cemeteries, while the
labouring class resort chiefly, as I am informed, to the burial
ground in Spa Fields, where the fees are less by 2_s._ 9_d._ than at
the Hampstead Road ground, the undertaker’s charges being the same
for each.

Is the church to be considered part of the burial ground?—Yes; it
is. The Act apparently contemplated only a place for the performance
of a service over the dead, not for services to regular
congregations. The minister has a house on the ground, and derives a
portion of his emoluments from pew rents, derived from persons who
attend the chapel from the immediate neighbourhood—parishioners of
St. Pancras parish; very few, if any, of the parishioners of St.
James, have pews there. The minister, Dr. Stebbing, has a moiety of
the pew rents, which now amount to nearly £500 per annum. His
proportion of the burial fees may be about £70 per annum.

Since the commencement, has the income defrayed the expenses of the
burial ground?—Since Dr. Stebbing has been the minister it has only
just paid the expenses; but I am apprehensive that it will not
continue to do so. By the Act for the regulation of the chapel, any
deficiency in the expenditure is directed to be made good out of the
moneys in the churchwardens’ hands. Since the establishment of the
chapel it has been a drag on the funds: a very severe one.

When the chapel was established were there any houses round it?—Not

What is its condition in that respect now?—It is now in the midst of
houses which are increasing in numbers.

When asked, what was the condition of the burial ground, notwithstanding
the expenditure made upon it, he states that—

The ground, consisting of four acres, is in a very watery condition,
but is considered capable of being effectually drained, the expense
being the only obstacle.

Is it considered that the ground will hold more than it does?—Many
more; and a much larger amount of burials for a number of years.

What are the objections to the ground?—One objection among the
higher classes, and a very serious one, is that it is very wet.
After a grave has been dug, the water in it has risen, and the
coffin is lowered into the water.

Has there been any expenditure upon it for rendering it attractive
by planting or ornamenting it?—In former years it was planted with
trees or shrubs; but as compared with the cemeteries it cannot
pretend to any attractions.

Is there anything in the circumstances of the establishment of the
burial ground and chapel for St. James which do not render it a fair
example of any similar measure for an equivalent population in these
times?—There appear to be no circumstances to prevent it being
considered a fair example.

§ 108. The following is the account of the St. Martin’s suburban burial
ground, given by Mr. Le Breton, the clerk to the guardians of the

What is the provision made for the burial of the poorer classes in
the parish of St. Martin-in-the-Fields?—The burial ground in
Drury-lane in 1804 was considered to be full, when four acres of
ground, situate at Camden-town, were purchased and used as a
cemetery. The plot was then in what was considered the country: the
distance of the spot is rather more than two miles from the
workhouse. Since its institution it has been completely surrounded
by houses, and they are now building close against the wall of the
burial ground. Originally it was designed as a better sort of burial
ground, but since loss has been incurred by it and it has not been
found to be attractive; two hundred pounds have recently been
expended upon it in planting it. Formerly it was so wet that when
persons went to funerals there they often found that the coffin was
let down several feet in water or mire. This created an unpleasant
sensation, and the ground was drained at a great expense into the
Fleet-ditch. The objection as to the wetness of the ground does not
now exist.

What have been the expenses, and the numbers of interments and
charges of the burial ground?—(The following statement was given in
answer to this question.)

The original cost of forming ground, &c., was about £2,000
The price is a perpetual rent-charge of, for the 4 acres, £100 = £3,000
per annum
Establishment Charges:—
Chaplain’s salary per annum £60
Sexton’s salary per annum £50
Keeping up ground by gardener £20
Paving rate per annum £30
Compensation to St. Pancras £5
The chaplain and sexton have houses to dwell in, which
are kept in repair, insured, and the taxes paid by the £30
parish at a considerable expense

A private Act of Parliament was obtained, but at what cost does not

The burial ground was formed in 1804, and the charges of it to this
date have exceeded £10,000 beyond the fees received.

_From 20th March, 1806, to 1st December, 1842._

Total number of burials at Camden-town since the formation of 10,982
the ground
Of these were non-parishioners 1,987
Of these were paupers 4,624
Of these were buried in the cheapest ground where 1,062
monuments are not allowed
All burials for St. Martin in the Fields, 1841 522
Registered deaths, 1841 589

Beyond the expense of the establishment, have any inconveniences
been the subject of complaint by the parishioners?—Yes; that the
hours appointed by the chaplain are not those most suited for
interments; that they are often driven off until late in the
evening, and in consequence of the time being limited the service is
performed in a hurried manner. In respect to position, the cemetery
appears to be convenient, and no one within the district complains
of any offence arising from it. My own view is that there ought to
be a central or some other supervision over cemeteries: if there be
not there will only be abuses and grounds of dissatisfaction.

Do you conceive that the experience of the parish of St. Martin, of
a separate parochial cemetery, is applicable as an index to the
general charge upon the rate-payers in the other parishes of the
metropolis, resulting from the simple prohibition of interments in
the town, and the permission to any two or more parishes to provide
cemeteries for; in other words, to the transference of burial
grounds from the centre of the town to the midst of the
suburbs?—Yes, I do consider it applicable: moreover, that at the
present time, it would be still more difficult to obtain sites
within a reasonable distance than it was in 1804: the expenses of
separate parochial grounds must therefore be much more considerable.

§ 109. The Rev. Wm. Stone, the rector of Spitalfields, whose position,
as the minister of a large and populous parish, possessing one of the
best managed places of burial in the metropolis, gives him peculiar
opportunities of judging of the most advantageous administrative
arrangements, and entitles his observations to peculiar weight,
concludes his testimony in the following terms:—

1. As the clergyman of a poor and populous parish, I should regret
the necessity of imposing any additional rate upon my parishioners,
especially any one which was likely to be regarded as a church rate;
and I feel certain, that a rate assessed for the burial of the dead,
and collected under the authority of the rector and churchwardens,
would be so regarded. Under our present system, the burial of the
dead is a source of profit; it yields an annual surplus towards
defraying the other expenses of the church; and it thus conspires
with other circumstances to make the church-rate fall light upon my
parishioners. But in a population like mine any additional impost
would be felt; and confounded, as in such a population it certainly
would be, with church-rate, it might operate mischievously or even
fatally against the church establishment of my parish. The same
objection would apply in principle to all poor and populous
parishes. As a clergyman, too, I might add more personal
considerations; for, though the incumbent, as the only permanent
member of the committee of health, might have some local prominence
and weight, more, perhaps, than might everywhere be satisfactory to
dissenters; yet, in imposing pecuniary charges on his parishioners,
and levying penalties for the non-payment of those charges, he would
have duties unpopular enough to outweigh the advantage of any
distinction conferred on him.

2. If it is said, that a rate of 1_d._ in the pound would be too
light to be felt; it may be said also that it would be too much so
to answer its purpose. It is commonly calculated, that, in my
parish, a rate of 6_d._ in the pound realizes barely 500_l._, yet
the population to be provided with interment is above 20,000. And as
all the parishes about us are in much the same circumstances this
objection would apply equally to a union of parishes.

3. There is much that is objectionable in the proposed local
committees of health.

A local board would be less likely to possess the confidence of the
people. Indeed, it would be exposed to the influence of personal
interest and local partialities; and still more so, if the majority
of its members were in office for a year or two only. A board of
this kind may be said to exist already in my own parish, where a
local Act of Parliament places the burial ground in the hands of the
parish officers. And it is but a few years since my attention was
forcibly called to the insecurity of this local arrangement by one
of my parishioners. This parishioner, who was intimately and
practically acquainted with the working of our parochial system,
represented to me the necessity of adopting increased precautions
for the protection of our burial ground, “for,” said he, “a partial
or interested parish officer might do almost anything he pleased
with it;” and he proceeded to name an individual, who had even
intimated his intention to do so as soon as he should come into
office. There can be no doubt, indeed, that any individual might do
so. It is impossible to say, to what extent a tradesman so disposed
might oblige his friends and customers, and benefit himself; for as
senior officer of the year he would have the sole disposal of the
burial ground, and receive all payments for burials, private graves,
vaults, and the erection of monumental tablets, without any demand
upon those receipts, but a limited sum payable to the rector, and
without any inspective control over them but that of a board of
auditors chosen from his brother vestrymen. From my own observation,
I do not think that parish auditors are generally very accurate in
their investigations. But on a subject like the one in question,
they hardly could be so. Even supposing what is seldom, if ever, the
case, that they had a practical knowledge of the subject, and
conducted their investigations with the authorized table of fees
before them, they might in many instances be eluded. During the
first four years of my incumbency, the parish officers reported
their receipts for burials at the average amount of 215_l._ a-year,
which sum, after the deduction of 125_l._ secured to the rector,
left an annual surplus of 90_l._ At that time it was generally held
to be a point of official honour, that the amount of this surplus
should be kept secret out of doors. It was kept secret even from the
rector; and it may serve at once to show the impolicy of secrecy,
and the extent to which local authorities are distrusted, that my
predecessor always had his misgivings on the subject. Though
remarkable for the mildness and amiability of his disposition, he
could never surmise any more innocent misapplication of this
surplus, than that it was alienated from the church for the relief
of the poor rate.

A constant change in the majority of a local board would be most
unfavourable to uniformity of system, efficiency, and economy. Upon
this ground I believe the church to be a great loser by the office
of churchwarden. An individual charged with raising and expending
the ecclesiastical finances of a parish for a year only is little
likely to perform those duties as well as if he had a more permanent
authority. To say nothing of his having more temptation to
indolence, and to an ostentatious or interested profusion, he
labours under the unavoidable disadvantage of inexperience. By the
time that he becomes efficient in his office, he is called upon to
retire from it.

A local board would want many other advantages of a more publicly
constituted authority. Supplied with members by the casualties of
parochial office, it could not always command a high order of
intelligence. It would necessarily be limited in its opportunities
of observation; and, as it could not make its purchases and regulate
its current expenditure to the same advantage as if it acted on a
more extensive scale, it would, of course, prove less economical to
the public.

In fact, from all my local observation, I am led to hope that, in
removing the interment of the dead from populous towns, the
Legislature will adopt not a parochial but a comprehensive national
plan for the purpose.

Mr. Drew, the vestry clerk and superintendent registrar of Bermondsey,
makes similar objections to the proposed machinery; that “the persons
nominated to carry out such a measure in parishes would not be
satisfactory to the inhabitants, even if they were disposed to act.”

Mr. Corder, the clerk to the Strand Union, was asked upon this subject—

What do you believe to be the prevailing opinion in your Union on
the subject of town interments?—I believe there is a strong and
growing opinion against the practice of interring in London and its
immediate environs. I believe that public feeling generally is
opposed to that custom, as being prejudicial to health, and often
more distressing to the feelings of the survivors than interments
would be in a more distant and less familiar and frequented spot.

Do you think the parishioners of London parishes would approve of
separate and distinct parochial cemeteries?—No, I think they would
prefer having one or more cemeteries on a very extensive scale to
having parochial cemeteries which, in the neighbourhood of the
metropolis, would, I think, be found almost impracticable.

Do you think that parishes generally would object to the expense of
providing cemeteries?—I think that if separate parochial cemeteries
were established, the expense incurred would be so serious as to
induce parishes almost to submit to the evils resulting from town
interments rather than incur so heavy an expenditure. One of the
advantages of having one or more cemeteries on a large scale would
be that the expense would be thereby proportionably and very
considerably diminished.

George Downing, a mechanic, and secretary to a burial society, it will
be found, represents sentiments extensively prevalent amongst persons of
his own class in the metropolis.

Do you conceive that any arrangements for the improvement of
interments would be carried on more acceptably to the labouring
classes if they were conducted by officers connected with the
parish, or by a larger and superior agency?—The working people would
sell their beds from under them sooner than have any parish
funerals: it is heart-rending to them, and they would prefer any
other officers to the parish officers.

Do you find that they are prepared to have interments in the towns
prohibited?—Yes, it has been very much debated upon since the scenes
in the churchyards are made known, and they wish the bill to be
carried. I am confident that every man in our club would petition to
have the bill carried, so that such scenes may be put a stop to. I
find the opinion of the working men on the subject is quite
universal about it. They expect that Government will provide the
grounds and some means of conveyance.

Mr. Dix was asked—

Is it the expectation of the labouring and poorer classes that large
public cemeteries will be provided?—Yes, that I think is the general

Do you conceive that large cemeteries, on a national scale, will be
more acceptable to the labouring classes than parochial burial
grounds, whether in the present grounds or in burial grounds in the
suburbs of the metropolis?—I think the national cemeteries will be
much more popular.

If the burials of the working population could be performed in the
more ornamented and attractive cemeteries, such as those at Highgate
and Kensal Green, at the same expense as in any of the grounds
within the town, would there be any who would not be buried there?—I
think very few.

Unequivocal proof is given of the dispositions of the labouring classes
in this respect by the fact that the number of interments of persons of
those classes in cemeteries is increasing, even under increased charges.
For example, on examining the mortuary registries of the Westminster
cemetery, to see what were the class of persons interred, it appeared
that the majority of the persons interred in that, which is the cemetery
most heavily charged with burial fees, was of the labouring classes from
St. George’s, Hanover-square. The fees for interment, in the suburban
burial ground in the Bayswater-road, belonging to their own parish, were
15_s._; and interments in the trading burial grounds might have been
obtained at lower rates: but the fees paid for interment at the more
distant cemetery are 30_s._ for each burial. The registries contained
similar evidence in an increasing number of interments of the labouring
classes from immediately adjacent suburban parishes, such as Chelsea,
Brompton, and Kensington, of a disposition to make sacrifices, to obtain
interments in places that are more free from offensive associations to
them than those which attach to the parochial burial grounds.

Mr. Wild was asked—

So far as your experience goes, does the practice of interment in
cemeteries result from motives of economy or from choice of
situation?—From choice of situation, or from dislike of the
parochial burial-grounds; in nine cases out of ten from preference
of the situation and mode of interment in cemeteries; the choice
would indeed be general, if it were not for the increased charges
made by undertakers. The undertakers have generally increased the
funeral charges at the cemeteries above one-third. The number of men
taken out, whose whole day is occupied, make up the increased

You state, that but for the increased charge, the custom of
interment in cemeteries would be general; has the strength of the
attachments to the parochial churchyards diminished?—Yes, under the
recent inquiries and exposures of the state of the churchyards they
have almost vanished. But at no time was the attachment to the
parochial churchyards in town so strong as in the country. In the
country, even the poorer classes will pay the sexton a fee of from
1_s._ 6_d._ to 2_s._ 6_d._, for “keeping up the grave.” This cannot
be the case in the towns for want of space; parties who appoint
their places of burial, generally select a place on account of its

Do you believe that the wish to be buried where kindred are buried,
is, or would continue to be stronger, than a desire to be buried in
well-provided cemeteries?—No; this is shewn by the increasing
frequency with which parties who have family vaults, desire to be
buried in the cemeteries. Very recently I performed the funeral of a
lady belonging to a family who had a vault in a church at
Westminster—her husband had been buried in it. By her will she
desired to be buried at Kensal Green, and she had requested that if
the churchyard at Westminster was closed, her husband’s remains
might be brought and placed next to hers in the cemetery. There were
other members of the family besides her husband buried in the family
vault. Such instances are now becoming very frequent.

Inasmuch as interments in cemeteries have generally increased the

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 15 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27

Online LibraryEdwin ChadwickReport on the sanitary conditions of the labouring population of Great Britain. A supplementary report on the results of a special inquiry into the practice of interment in towns. Made at the request of Her Majesty's principal secretary of state for the Home department → online text (page 15 of 27)