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 19 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 19 of 27)
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There appear to be very important questions connected with the
consideration of the site of the place of burial to populous districts.

§ 140. The question of the distance of places of burial (irrespective of
convenience of conveyance) appears to be dependent on the numbers
buried,—on the composition and preparation of the ground,—on the
elevation or depression of the place of burial,—and its exposure to the
atmosphere and the direction of the prevalent winds for the avoidance of

§ 141. The extent of burial ground requisite for any district will be
determined by the rate of decomposition.

§ 142. At Franckfort and Munich, and in the other new cemeteries on the
continent, where qualified persons have paid attention to the subject,
the general rule is not to allow more than one body in a grave. The
grounds for this rule are,—that, when only one body is deposited in a
grave, the decomposition proceeds regularly,—the emanations are more
diluted and less noxious than when the mass of remains is greater; and
also that the inconvenience of opening the graves, of allowing escapes
of miasma, and the indecency of disturbing the remains for new
interments, is thereby avoided; and in the case of exhumations, the
confusion and danger of mistaking the particular body is prevented.

§ 143. The progress of the decay of the body is various, according to
the nature of the soil and the surrounding agencies. Clayey soils are
antiseptic; they retain the gases, as explained by Mr. Leigh; they
exclude the external atmosphere, and are also liable to the
inconvenience of becoming deeply fissured in hot weather and then
allowing the escape of the emanations which have been retained in a
highly concentrated state. Loamy, ferruginous, and aluminous soils, moor
earth, and bog, are unfavourable to decomposition; sandy, marly, and
calcareous soils are favourable to it. Water, at a low temperature, has
the tendency, as already explained, to promote only a languid
decomposition, which sometimes produces adipocire in bodies: a high and
dry temperature tends to produce the consistency and permanency of
mummies. A temperature of from 65 degrees Fahrenheit and upwards, and a
moist atmosphere, is the most favourable to decomposition. The remains
of the young decompose more rapidly than those of the old, females than
males, the fat than the lean. The remains of children decompose very
rapidly. On opening the graves of children at a period of six or seven
years, the bodies have been found decomposed, not even the bones
remaining, whilst the bodies of the adults were but little affected. The
process of decomposition is also affected by the disease by which the
death was occasioned. The process is delayed by the make of some sorts
of coffins. The extreme variations of the process under such
circumstances as those above recited is from a few months to 30 years or
half a century. Bones often last for centuries.

§ 144. The regulation of the depth of the graves has been found to be a
subject requiring great attention, to avoid occasioning too rapid an
evolution of miasma from the remains, and at the same time to avoid its
retention and corruption, to avoid the pollution of distant springs, and
also to avoid rendering increased space for burial requisite by the
delay of decomposition usually produced by deep burial, for the ground
usually becomes hard in proportion to the depth, and delays the
decomposition. Attention to these circumstances by qualified persons in
Germany has led to different regulations of the depth of graves at
different ages. At Stuttgart the different depths are as follows: for
bodies of persons—

ft. in.
Under 8 years 3 9
8 to 10 years 4 7
10 to 14 years 5 7
Adults 6 7

At the Glasshutte, in the Erzgebirge, the depths are as follows:

ft. in.
Under 8 years 3 8
8 to 14 years 4 7
Adults 5 0

At Franckfort the average depth prescribed for graves is 5 ft. 7 in.; at
Munich 6 ft. 7 in.; in France 4 ft. 10 in. to 6 ft.; in Austria 6 ft. 2
in., if lime be used.

§ 145. Space between graves is also a matter requiring attention to
avoid the uncovering of the coffin in one grave in opening another, and
to avoid the accidents arising from the falling in of the sides of the
graves: this space must vary according to the consistency of the ground
and the depth of the graves. At Munich and Stuttgart the space
prescribed, is in round numbers, rather more than 32 square feet to each
adult. To avoid treading on the graves, and to allow the access of
friends, spaces must be allowed also for walks.

These circumstances considered, the space requisite for the interments
in a town may be determined by the multiplication of the average square
superficies of a grave, by the average yearly mortality, and the period
of years which the grave is to remain closed. “As an example,” says Dr.
Reicke, “of the mode of calculating the necessary space for the burial
ground of a populous district, I will take a town of 35,000 inhabitants.
Accordingly of this number it may be reckoned there will yearly die
1000. Of the number 500 will be adults, 50 children, from 7 to 14, and
450 children from 0 to 7 years. For the adults, allowing more than the
most economical space, I calculate graves of 48 square feet Wirtemburg
(_i. e._ 54·72 square feet English); for the children between 7 and 14
years, 24 square feet (27·36 English feet); and for those under 7, 20
square feet (22·80 English). For the adults I take a period of 10 years,
for the youth 8 years, for the infants 7 years, as the time during which
periods the grave must not be opened.” According to this calculation the
space required for the interment of the several classes would be—

English Numbers English
Square Dead. Years. Square
Feet. Feet.
1. Adults. 54·72 × 500 × 10 = 273,600
2. Youth. 27·36 × 50 × 8 = 10,944
3. Infants. 22·80 × 450 × 7 = 71,820
Total 356,364

“According to the usual calculation the requisite space would be:—

39·90 × 1,000 × 10 = 399,000.

So that, by the above calculation and classification, there is a saving
of 42,636 square feet.

“I must, however, beg to be understood that this calculation is only
meant to serve as an example, and that the factors on which it is
grounded must undergo the necessary variations, according as the soil is
more or less favourable to decomposition, and therefore requiring a
longer or shorter period of rest; and according to the greater or less
consistency of the soil, and therefore requiring the space between the
graves to be greater or less; and, lastly, according as the average
mortality varies, and especially the rate of mortality of the three
classes of ages.”

These factors would give different results for different populations,
according to their different proportions of death. As an example of a
town population, in Whitechapel the proportion of deaths for every
35,000 of the population will be 1125 deaths yearly. As an example of a
rural population, for every 35,000 of the population in Hereford, there
will only be 562 deaths annually, and the space required for interments
for the two populations will be as follows, at the actual rate of deaths
per 35,000 amongst the population in the Whitechapel Union in 1839:

English Total Average
Square Number of Age of Area in Square
Feet. Deaths. Grave. Square Feet.
1. Adults. 54·72 × 568 × 10 = 310,810
2. Youths. 27·36 × 31 × 8 = 6,785
3. Children. 22·80 × 524 × 7 = 83,639
————— ———————
1,123 401,234 39·07
————— ——————— —————

Rate of deaths per 35,000 in the Herefordshire Unions in 1839:

English Total Average
Square Number of Age of Area in Square
Feet. Deaths. Grave. Square Feet.
1. Adults. 54·72 × 382 × 10 = 209,030
2. Youths. 27·36 × 16 × 8 = 3,502
3. Children. 22·80 × 164 × 7 = 26,174
——— ———————
562 238,706 44·62
——— ——————— —————

This gives for a rural population 976 graves per acre.
For a town population 1,117 graves per acre.

But in consequence of the smaller proportion of children dying in the
rural district, a larger space is requisite than would appear from a
comparative number of the interments if the graves were of the same
size. The average size of the different graves may be taken as an
epitome of the strength of the same numbers of the two populations: that
of the town grave being in round numbers 39 feet, while the rural grave
is 44 feet.

Nevertheless, the extent of land requisite for cemetery, on a decennial
period of renewal, for a population of 20,000 in a rural district would
be only 4–4/10 acres, whilst for 20,000 of such a town population as
that of Whitechapel, it would be 7–4/10 acres.

§ 146. In 1838 the deaths in the metropolis were nearly 52,000; and for
round numbers the average maybe taken as 50,000 annually. Such an amount
of mortality would require on the scale proposed by Dr. Riecke, for the
several classes of graves, about 48 acres, or a space of nearly the size
of St. James’s Park within the rails, annually. On the same scale,
supposing the interments generally renewable in decennial periods, the
space required for national cemeteries in the metropolis would be 444
acres, or a space coextensive with Hyde Park, which has 350 acres, and
the Green Park and St. James’s Park put together; or rather more than
one-fourth more than the Regent’s Park, which has 350 acres; or
one-fourth less space than the Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens taken
together. But besides the spaces for the cemeteries, spaces would be
requisite as belts of land surrounding them, and to be kept clear of

§ 147. The proper distance of places of interment from houses, is
calculable according to the number of interments. On this subject there
have been some, though not complete observations. There is a church-yard
at Stuttgart, in which 500 bodies are interred yearly, at depths varying
with the age, according to the scale of regulations stated, with no more
than one corpse in each grave, yet a north-west wind renders the
emanations from the ground perceptible in houses distant from 250 to 300
paces. The stench of the carrion pits at Montfaucon is almost
insupportable to a person not used to it, at a distance of 6500 feet,
and with certain winds at double that distance, and under some
circumstances even to the distance of five miles. Besides the surface
emanations, the pollution of the subsoil drainage and springs have to be
regarded. Captain Vetch states, that on some plains in Mexico, where
animals have been slaughtered and buried in pits in permeable ground,
the effects on vegetation were to be seen along the edges of a brook for
a distance of three-quarters of a mile. In some parts they actually
slaughtered and buried animals for the purpose of influencing the
surrounding vegetation. By the best regulations in Germany, as already
stated, wells are forbidden to be sunk near grave-yards, except at
certain distances, such as 300 feet. _Ante_, §§ 13, 14.

§ 148. On such data as have been obtained, the distance of a cemetery
ought to vary according to its size, or the number of the population for
whom burial is required. The cemetery for a small population of from 500
to 1000 inhabitants, should, Dr. Reicke considers, be not less than 150
paces; for 1000 to 5000 inhabitants, not less than 300 paces; for above
5000, not less than 500 paces. In Prussia, the distance from houses at
which cemeteries may be built, is fixed at not less than 500 paces; at
Stralsund, in Prussia, at 1000 paces.

§ 149. It is recommended that in general public cemeteries should be
placed at the east or the north, or the north-east of a town: the south
and south-west winds, being usually moist, hold the putrefactive gases
in solution more readily than the north, or north-east winds, which are
dry. The higher the elevation of a cemetery, the nearer may it be
permitted to a city, as putrefactive gases are lighter than the
atmosphere and ascend. For the same reason, cemeteries lower than the
houses should be at a greater distance. A site, with a slope to the
south, is deemed the best, as it will be drier and warmer, and
facilitate decomposition.

§ 150. Competent witnesses declare, that by a careful preparation of the
ground, and without any appliances that would be otherwise than
acceptable to the most fastidious minds, the escape of miasma may be so
regulated as to avoid all injury to the health, and springs may be
protected from pollution by drainage; and that by these means the
necessity of far distant sites, and the inconvenience and expense of
conveyance of the remains, and obstructions to the access of friends to
the place of burial, may be avoided.

§ 151. Amongst these means, one for preventing the escape of emanations
at the surface by absorbing and purifying them, is entirely in
accordance with the popular feeling. The great body of English poetry,
which it has been remarked is more rich on the subject of sepulture than
the poetry of any other nation, abounds with reference to the practice
of ornamenting graves with flowers, shrubs, and trees. A rich vegetation
exercises a powerful purifying influence, and where the emanations are
moderate, as from single graves, would go far to prevent the escape of
any deleterious miasma. It is conceived that the escapes of large
quantities of deleterious gasses by the fissuring of the ground would
often be in a very great degree prevented by turfing over the surface,
or by soiling, that is, by laying vegetable mould of five or six inches
in thickness and sowing it carefully with grasses whose roots spread and
mesh together. At the Abney Park Cemetery, where the most successful
attention is paid to the vegetation, this is done; but in some districts
of towns it marks the impurity of the common atmosphere that even grass
will not thrive; and that flowers and shrubs which live on the river
side, or in spaces open to the breeze, become weakly and die rapidly in
the enclosed spaces in the crowded districts. Several species of
evergreens, and the plants which have gummy or resinous leaves, that are
apt to retain soot or dust, die quickly. The influence, therefore, of a
full variety of flowers and a rich vegetation, so necessary for the
actual purification of the atmosphere, as well as to remove associations
of impurity, and refresh the eye and soothe the mind, can only be
obtained at a distance from most towns. It occasionally happens that
individuals incur expense to decorate graves in the town churchyards
with flowers, and more would do so, even in the churchyards near
thoroughfares, but that they perish.

§ 152. Mr. Loudon recommends for planting in cemeteries, trees chiefly
of the fastigiate growing kinds, which neither cover a large space with
their branches nor give too much shade when the sun shines, and which
admit light and air to neutralize any mephitic effluvia. Of these are,
the Oriental Arbor Vitæ, the Evergreen Cypress, the Swedish and Irish
Juniper, &c. For the same reason, trees of the narrow conical forms,
such as the Red Cedar, and various pines and firs are desirable. In
advantageously situated cemeteries, some of the larger trees, such as
the Cedar of Lebanon, the Oriental Plane, the Purple Beech, the dark
Yew, and the flowering Ash, sycamores, Mountain Ash, hollies, thorns,
and some species of oaks, such as the Evergreen Oak, the Italian Oak,
with flowering trees and shrubs, would find places in due proportion.

§ 153. There is one point of view in which the site of cemeteries does
not appear to have been considered on the continent, and perhaps in no
place could it be of so much importance as in London, namely, the
convenience of access for processions, including in the consideration
the protection of the inhabitants of particular quarters from an excess
of funereal processions, and the mourners from the conflicting
impressions consequent on a passage through thoroughfares crowded by a
population unavoidably inattentive. It might be found on a survey that
the banks of the river present several eligible sites for national
cemeteries, and one pre-eminent recommendation of such sites would be
the superior and economical means of conveyance they would afford by
appropriate funereal barges, for uninterrupted and noiseless passage
over what has been denominated “The Great Silent Highway.”

_Extent of Burial Grounds existing in the Metropolis._

§ 154. The rule, as deduced (§ 142.) from the German practice, would
give an average of 110 burials per acre per annum in a town district.

§ 155. In 1834, some returns of the extent of burial grounds and the
number of burials during the three years preceding, in the places of
burial within the diocese of the Bishop of London and the bills of
mortality, were laid before the House of Commons. From those it appeared
that the ground occupied as burial ground within the diocese amounted to
103 acres, and that the average number of burials was 22,548, or 219 per
acre, being from 108 to 117 more per acre than the preceding rule would
give. In some grounds the number of interments were as high as 891 per
acre. But that return did not include the burials in the whole of the
metropolis. From the results of a systematic inquiry which has been
recently made throughout the whole district of the metropolis (as
defined in the report of the Registrar-General) into the extent of the
burial-grounds and the average weekly number of burials at each place,
it appears that the total area now occupied as burial ground, including
the new cemeteries, and the annual rate of burial in each class, is, as
nearly as can be ascertained, as follows:—

│ │ Annual │ Average │ Highest │ Lowest
Burial Grounds │ │Number of │ Annual │Number of │Number of
in the │ Area in │ Burials, │Number of │ Burials │ Burials
Metropolis. │ Acres. │exclusive │ Burials │ per Acre │ per Acre
│ │ of Vault │per Acre. │ in any │ in any
│ │ Burials. │ │ Ground. │ Ground.
Parochial │ 176–3/10│ 33,747│ 191│ 3,073│ 11
Grounds │ │ │ │ │
Protestant │ │ │ │ │
Dissenters’ │ 8–7/10│ 1,715│ 197│ 1,210│ 6
Grounds │ │ │ │ │
Roman Catholics │ 0–3/10│ 270│ 1,043│ 1,613│ 814
Jews │ 9–2/10│ 304│ 33│ 52│ 13
Swedish Chapel │ 0–1/10│ 10│ 108│ │
Undescribed │ 10–9/10│ 3,197│ 294│ 1,109│ 5
Private Grounds │ 12–6/10│ 5,112│ 405│ 2,323│ 50
Total of │ │ │ │ │
Intra-mural │ 218–1/10│ 44,355│ 203│ 1,080│ 46
Grounds │ │ │ │ │
Total of New │ 260–5/10│ 3,336│ 13│ 155│ 4
Cemeteries │ │ │ │ │
Vault Burials │ │ 789│ │ │

The total numbers of burials, as ascertained by verbal inquiry at each
graveyard, approximate so nearly to the total numbers of deaths as to
afford a presumption in favour of the general accuracy of these

§ 156. The most crowded burial grounds, on the average, are, it appears,
the grounds which belong to private individuals, usually undertakers. In
these places an uneducated man generally acts as minister, puts on a
surplice, and reads the church service, or any other service that may be
called for. These grounds are morally offensive, and appear to be
physically dangerous in proportion to the numbers interred in them. In
one of them the numbers interred appears to be at the rate of more than
2,300 per acre per annum. Names are given to these places by the owners,
importing connexion with congregations, but without any apparent
authority for doing so. They are repudiated by the most respectable
Dissenters. On this point it appears to be just to submit an extract
from a communication (on his individual responsibility) from the Rev.
John Blackburn, Pentonville, one of the secretaries of the Union of
Congregational Dissenters:—

I have no facts to communicate relating to the _physical_ effects
produced by the present crowded state of the old grave-yards, but I
am sure the moral sensibilities of many delicate minds must sicken
to witness the heaped soil, saturated and blackened with human
remains and fragments of the dead, exposed to the rude insults of
ignorant and brutal spectators. Immediately connected with this,
allow me to mention that some spots that have been chosen both by
episcopalians and dissenters, are wet and clayey, so that the splash
of water is heard from the graves, as the coffins descend, producing
a shudder in every mourner. I may with confidence disclaim the
imputation that the grave-yards of dissenters were primarily and
chiefly established with a view to emolument. Many grave-yards that
are private property, purchased by undertakers for their own
emolument, are regarded as dissenting burial grounds, and we are
implicated in the censures that are pronounced upon the unseemly and
disgusting transactions that have been detected in them.—These are
not dissenting but general cemeteries: dissenters use them for the
reasons already stated [which are omitted, being the objections
urged by dissenters against the indiscriminate use of the burial
service.] The pastor of the bereaved family accompanies them to the

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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 19 of 27)