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

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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 20 of 27)
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grave, or meets them there, adapts his ministrations to their known
circumstances, and without fee or reward—except in rare
cases—discharges them as part of his pastoral work. By far the
greatest portion of the persons buried in these grounds are not
dissenters at all; and to meet the feelings of their connections the
proprietors of these grounds obtain the services of men, who,
without scruple, ape the clergyman, assume the surplice, and read
the service of the church; a fact which is sufficient to show that
they are not dissenters themselves, nor seeking to conciliate
dissenting objections. The congregational or independent
denomination, to which I belong, have about 120 chapels in and
around London, and I believe there is not more than a sixth part of
them that have grave yards attached, and all those are not in the
hands of trustees appointed by the people. But, as far as I know and
believe, there are but very few of these open to the sweeping
censures that have been pronounced upon them. At a recent meeting of
the congregational ministers of the metropolis they resolved, “That
this board will always hail with satisfaction the adoption of any
efficient means to correct abuses connected with burial grounds, as
well general as parochial, where such abuses are proved to exist;”
and I trust that the character of dissenters in general for good
citizenship, is sufficient to assure you that they will never permit
their private interests to oppose any great measures for our social
improvement that are really national in their spirit and design.

As the sufficiency of the burial grounds existing within the metropolis
does not properly come into question under the general conclusion that
there ought to be none there, the only observation I at present submit
upon the space of ground now occupied is that it would serve hereafter
advantageously to be kept open as public ground.

§ 157. The well considered regulations then, give about 1452 common
graves per acre for a town population. § 145. In the arrangements made
for cemeteries belonging to a joint stock company, it is calculated that
every acre of ground filled with vaults and private graves, will receive
no less than 11,000 bodies. On the average size of coffins of 6 feet 3
by 1 foot 9, the common estimate is that the floor of an acre will
receive 3,887 coffins laid side by side.

§ 158. Another calculation for the produce of a company’s cemetery, is
that each grave will be 6 feet by 2 feet, or 12 square feet, or 3630
graves to the acre (which contains 43,560 square feet), and that every
grave shall contain 10 coffins in each grave. Twenty-five shillings is
charged for each coffin interred: hence each acre is calculated to
produce, when filled (without reference to the public health), a gross
sum of 45,375_l._ In one instance, where the burials in a company’s
cemetery were five deep, the sales of graves actually made were at a
rate of 17,000_l._ per acre, gross produce.

§ 159. The retention of bodies in leaden coffins in vaults is objected
to, as increasing the noxiousness of the gases, which sooner or later
escape, and when in vaults beneath churches, create a miasma which is
apt to escape through the floor, whenever the church is warmed.[31] In
Austria, and in other states, interment in lead is prohibited. In the
majority of cases in England, burial in lead, as well as in other
expensive coffins, appears to be generally promoted by the undertakers,
to whom they are the most profitable. The Emperor Joseph, of Austria, on
the knowledge of the more deleterious character of concentrated
emanations from the dead, forbade the use even of coffins, and directed
that all people should be buried in sacks; but this excited discontent
amongst his subjects, who agreed in the sanitary principle of the
measure, but complained that, putting them in sacks, was treating them
as the Turks would do, and the regulation was altered for burial in
coffins made of pine, which decays rapidly.

§ 160. It is to be observed as an improved direction of the public mind
in the British metropolis, that on the part of persons who have the
means of defraying the expenses of vaults, an increasing preference of
inhumation is manifested, and that it is found by cemetery companies
that catacombs prepared for sale are not so much in demand as was
anticipated from the proportion in which they were in demand in the
parochial burial grounds. The state of some of the places of common
burial has evidently been such as to lead to the practice of entombment
in preference to inhumation. The associations commonly expressed with
inhumation (_redditur enim terræ corpus, et ita locatum ac situm, quasi
operimento matris obducitur_, Cic. de legibus) were with a purer earth.
In the most carefully regulated cemeteries in Germany the sale of any
portions in perpetuity is entirely prohibited. The recent investigation
of the disorders which have arisen in the management of the Parisian
cemeteries, has led to a conclusion for the adoption of the same
regulation, it having been found that, in time, families become extinct,
or fall into decay; that a proportion of the tombs and vaults are
neglected and fall into ruins, and detract from the general good keeping
of the rest. Under such circumstances the private tombs too frequently
raise associations of a character the very opposite of those intended by
the purchasers. Their numbers at the same time increase and continually
encroach on the spaces for general burial, and would ultimately occupy
the whole of the cemeteries; and in the progress of population would
absorb and hold large tracts of most important land near towns, in what
would literally be one of the worst species of mortmain.[32] It has,
therefore, been found necessary to restrict the sale of perpetuities in
vaults or graves, and to give only what may be called leases for years,
renewable on conditions, for the public protection.

§ 161. In the common grave-yards in the metropolis, the bones are
scattered about, or wheeled away to a bone-house, where they are thrown
into a heap. The feeling of the labouring classes at the sight of the
removal of the bones from an overcrowded churchyard was expressed in a
recent complaint, that those in charge of the place “would not give the
poor bones time to decay.” In Paris it is the custom to arrange skulls
and bones, in various forms, in catacombs: but they are offensive
objects; and the feelings of the poor man must be but ill consulted in
presenting to him, in these decayed and debased remains, the prospect of
the use of his own skull and bones to form part of a great and revolting
monument. A more beneficial arrangement is that in the better regulated
German cemeteries, where it is the invariable rule to remove from the
sight and to re-inter carefully, all bones, the object being to preserve
the associations of a gradual, inoffensive, and salutary restoration of
the material elements.

§ 162. By the Code Napoleon any one was permitted to be interred in his
own garden, or wheresoever he pleased. By the better considered
jurisprudence in Germany this liberty is withheld: because if the
practice were to become general, such decomposing remains would be
spread about without order, to the injury of the public health: it would
facilitate the burial of persons murdered; many by precipitate and
ill-regulated burial would be buried alive; many would be buried in this
mode to evade proper inquiries. An examination of the circumstances of
private and speculative burial grounds in this country developes many
facts, in corroboration of the soundness of the German jurisprudence on
this subject.

§ 163. The information with relation to material arrangements of the
public cemeteries in Germany is submitted, as showing how much there is
in their details of important questions of scientific appliances for
consideration, which, in the new cemeteries as well as in the old burial
grounds in this country, have generally been overlooked: appliances
which, even if they were practicable on a parochial scale of management,
would surely be little understood by the ordinary class of parochial
officers. Though the practice in Germany appears to be on most points in
advance, the inquiry has elicited various suggestions of probable
important improvements upon it, which it is thought unnecessary to
discuss, as being more fitted for investigation when new cemeteries have
been determined upon than at present. It may for the present suffice to
state, that a confident expectation is entertained by the best informed
witnesses, that were the attention of the most competent persons who
have hitherto been scared away, secured to the subject, still further
useful improvements would be in a very short time effected.

§ 164. The following portion of evidence from Dr. Lyon Playfair, which
adverts to the management of the evil in the common grave-yards, may
however be adduced as an example of the character of some of the
improvements already suggested.

You have examined into the state of certain church-yards with
reference to their sanitary effects; have you not?—I have examined
various church-yards and burying-grounds for the purpose of
ascertaining whether the layer of earth above the bodies is
sufficient to absorb the putrid gases evolved. The carbonic acid gas
would not in any case be absorbed, but it is not to this that the
evil effects are to be attributed. The slightest inspection,
however, shows that the putrid gases are not thoroughly absorbed by
soil lying over the bodies. I know several church-yards from which
most fœtid smells are evolved, and gases with similar odour are
emitted from the sides of sewers passing in the vicinity of
church-yards, although they may be above 30 feet from them. If these
gases are thus evolved laterally they must be equally emitted in an
upward direction. The worst burying-grounds which have come under my
notice are those belonging to private persons, generally
undertakers, who make their livelihood by interring at a cheap rate.
I visited one of these only a few days since. It was about 150 feet
long and about 30 broad, and had been used for 80 years as a burying
ground, and was still a favourite place of interment among the poor.
Of course many bodies are placed in one grave, and when the ground
becomes too much raised by bodies, it is levelled, and the boxes,
&c., exhumed during the levelling, are thrown into a large cellar
fitted to receive them. This whole ground was a mass of corruption,
as may well be supposed, and it is situated in a densely populated
neighbourhood. I mention this case as one among many other similar
cases of private burying-grounds, in order to suggest that attention
should be paid in any alteration respecting the laws regulating
interments, to prevent burying-grounds being kept as objects of
pecuniary speculation, at least within towns; for this practice
gives much inducement to violate every feeling of decency and regard
for public health in the desire for gain.

Can you suggest any method for preventing the escape of miasmata
from graves, or from places for the interment of the dead?—I cannot
suggest any methods as the results of experiment; but, at the same
time, I think it possible that the evil might be much abated by the
use of certain materials. For example, in a theoretical point of
view, chloride of lime would be quite effectual, but it might not be
applicable in practice, both from its expense, and from its great
tendency to be decomposed. A cheap method of absorbing putrid
effluvia, is by a mixture of charcoal from burnt tar, burnt clay,
and gypsum. When such a mixture is mixed with putrid matter, all
smell is immediately removed, and the matter is rendered inoffensive
to health. When this mixture is strewed over decomposing animal and
vegetable matter, it ceases to emit disagreeable odours. In like
manner, if a layer of such a cheap mixture as this were thrown
around and over a coffin, it would absorb probably the greatest
part, if not all, of the putrid miasmata arising from the
decomposition of the body. It possesses also this advantage, that it
would not impair by keeping, even though the coffin did not burst
for some years. I beg, however, again to state, that I throw this
out as a mere suggestion, as I have never tried it in the case of
graves, although I think it would be well worthy of a trial.
Vegetation also ought to be encouraged over the graves. The
legitimate food of plants is derived from decaying animal matter;
for indeed all the food existing in the air, from which they derive
their nutriment, is furnished to the atmosphere by the decay of
organic matter. Plants assist in absorbing the emanations which
escape from graves.

§ 165. It has been mentioned as an objection entertained in Germany to
the use of clayey soils, on the ground that they retain the gases, and
prevent that regular access of air which is necessary (as explained in a
portion of evidence already adduced) to allow decay to proceed without
putrefaction, which is the most dangerous condition. Good sand and good
gravel are of value in the metropolis. It is stated by a gentleman
connected with one of the cemeteries, and it is here mentioned to show
the prevalent want of knowledge, that it is the common practice when
sand and gravel are dug out to form a grave, not to return it, but to
fill in with the cheap and coarse, but retentive, London clay. Now the
grave-diggers frequently suffer severely in re-opening the graves which
are thus filled in by the retentive clay, and require to be stimulated
to their work by ardent spirits; and their ghastly appearance, as Mr.
Loudon observes, attests the sufferings which they undergo. In another
new cemetery, where the grass was very poor, the turf-mounds covering
some of the graves was trodden down; on inquiring the reason, it was
stated that sheep had been let in to eat the grass, to save the expense
of cutting it. Some of the trees and shrubs first planted had not
thriven well, and the officers stated that they had not yet been able to
persuade the directors to go to the expense of renewing them. In most
other cemeteries the plantations were in very good order, and several
presented points of improvement, in the architectural arrangements. But,
as observed by Mr. Loudon, “nearly all the new London cemeteries, and
most of the provincial cemeteries, adopt the practice of interring a
number of bodies in the same grave, without leaving a sufficient depth
over each coffin, to absorb the greater part of the gases of
decomposition.” It may indeed be confidently affirmed that there is
scarcely one of the new cemeteries in which one or other of the well
established principles of management, in the choice of the site, or the
preparation of the soil, or in the drainage, or in the mode of burial,
or in the numbers interred in one grave, or in respect to the
precautions to prevent the undue corruption of the remains and escapes
of dangerous morbific matter, or in the service and officers, or in
jurisprudential securities, is not overlooked. (§ 20.)

§ 166. In the cemetery at Liverpool, where Mr. Huskisson is interred, it
is the practice to pile the coffins of the poorest class in deep graves
or pits, one coffin over the other, with only a thin covering of earth
over each coffin until the pit is filled, when it holds upwards of
thirty, as the sexton expressed it, about “thirty-four big and little.”
The observation of several of the joint stock cemeteries, and their
estimates of future amounts of interments, not of one body in one grave,
but of bodies piled one over the other by five and even ten deep,
without any new precautions in respect to the emanations, the general
experience of the difficulty of effecting any change through commercial
associations that does not promise an immediate return for the expense
incurred, prove that, although they may be kept in a better condition to
the eye, there is no security that they will not be as injurious as any
common burial grounds, and stand as much in need of some regulations for
the protection of the inhabitants of the dwellings which in time may be
driven closer around them.

§ 167. Besides the improvements in formation of the cemeteries and
management of the interments, the regulations of the Franckfort and
Munich cemeteries present instances which it may here be proper to
submit for consideration, of the advantages derivable in aid of the
religious service from a better organized staff of officers in
maintaining superior order in the grounds on all occasions of solemnity.

§ 168. It will have been perceived how little support the clergymen have
in any appointed staff of officers to maintain order in the
burial-grounds of the more populous parishes. §§ 87, 88, and 111. On
occasions of several interments taking place in burial-grounds in the
metropolis at the same time, the master undertakers will volunteer their
services to get the crowd of by-standers into some order, and show how
much might be done by other and better superintendence to add to the
impressiveness of the last scene. The inferior attendants, the
grave-diggers, at the interments which I have witnessed at the new
cemeteries, attended, as they usually do at the parochial grounds, in a
disorderly condition—unshaven, dirty in person, in dirty shirts and in
the old and the common filthy dress. During the burial service the
undertakers’ men only concerned themselves in removing the feathers from
the hearse and preparing for an immediate return; all the attendants
began talking on other matters, and went their different ways
immediately the coffin was lowered; the mourners were left with the
utmost unconcern, except by the grave-diggers, who followed them in the
attitude of the usual solicitations of money for drink.

§ 169. A conception of the alterations required and practicable in
public establishments for conducting such a ceremony with due regard to
the feelings of the survivors and the public, may be formed by
inspecting the regulations of the cemetery at Franckfort, from which it
will be perceived that the superintendence of the cemetery, and of the
sextons in their various employments, is given to a cemetery inspector,
whose duties are described in the second section of the regulations, and
who must be a person of medical education, an officer of public health,
examined by the Sanitary Board, and found by them to be qualified. It is
specified as an important duty that he shall be present at the
interment, “in order that by his presence nothing may be done by his
subordinates, or by any other person, which should be contrary to the
dignity of the interment or to the regulations.”

The regulations also provide as follows:—

(3.) For the performance of all the necessary arrangements preceding
the interment, commissaries of interments are appointed to take the
place of the so called undertakers. These commissaries have to
arrange every thing connected with the funeral, and are responsible
for the proper fulfilment of all the regulations given in their

(4.) In order to prevent the great expense which was formerly
occasioned by the attendance with the dead to the grave, bearers
shall be appointed who shall attend to the cemetery all funerals,
without distinction of rank or condition.

To these bearers shall be given assistants, who shall be equally
under the control of the interment commissaries.

The commissary must see that the bearers are always cleanly and
respectably dressed in black when they appear at a funeral, and must
be particularly careful that they conduct themselves seriously,
quietly, and respectably.

He must also see that the carriage of the dead is not driven quickly
either in the town or beyond it, but that it is conducted
respectably at a proper quiet pace.

When the dead is covered, and not until then, the commissary and the
bearers shall leave the cemetery in perfect silence.

For any impropriety which may, through the conduct of the bearers,
arise during the interment, the commissary is responsible.

(35.) The sextons must always be respectably dressed in black during
the interment, and those who go to the house of mourning must always
appear in neat and clean attire, and must be studious at all times,
whether engaged within or without the churchyard, to preserve a
modest and proper behaviour. Drunkenness, neglect of duty, or abuse
of their services, will be punished by the Church Yard Commission,
and on repetition of the offence, the offender will be dismissed.

A Christian attention and civility to all is required from the highest
public officer, without any fees or expense, and mendicancy on the part
of the inferior attendants, and the rapacity of the uneducated and of
the ill-educated, which always rushes in most strongly on the helpless,
are equally prohibited. Of the inspector himself, it is by these
regulations provided:—

(17.) It is the duty of the inspector to treat all who have to apply
to him with politeness and respect, and to give the required
information unweariedly and with ready good will.

Under no pretext is he allowed either to demand or receive any
payment, as he has a sufficient salary.

And in respect to the other officers:—

(40.) Besides, or in addition to the authorised payment printed in
the tax roll, and determined by the Cemetery Commission as the
sufficient remuneration of the Inspector, Commissioners of
Interments, the bearers and sextons, no one is on the occasion of a
death, either to give money, or to furnish food and drink.

The practice of furnishing crape, gloves, lemons, &c., by the
friends of the dead, is also given up, and the persons engaged in
conducting the interment, must take all the requisites with them,
without asking or receiving any compensation, under pain of instant

§ 170. It is now a prevalent complaint, which, so far as the present
inquiry has proceeded, appears to be a just one, that in the management
of the common grave-yards in this country, human remains are literally
treated as earth, by the sextons and gravediggers, and ignorant men to
whom that management falls. The popular sentiments are offended by such
open practices as that of using an iron borer, to bore down and
ascertain whether the ground is occupied by a coffin, and whether it and
the contents are sufficiently decayed for removal. Were proper
registries kept of all interments and their sites, these, and a
knowledge of natural operations, would render such offensive processes
unnecessary. There appear to be few parochial grounds in which the
remains of any individual of the poorer classes could be found with
certainty, for exhumation, or for judicial or other purposes.

§ 171. In the German regulations cited as examples, the public feeling
is carefully consulted, and the general principle is acted upon, that
the remains, so long as they last, are sacred, and must even be dealt
with as sentient. Year after year the regulations for the care of the
dead in the house of reception preparatory to interment are scrupulously
maintained, on the presumption that a revival may take place, and the
action upon the presumption is not relaxed, although perhaps there is no
actual probability of such an event taking place. Persons are kept in
attendance at the cemetery on this presumption, and with respect to them
it is expressly provided:—

(7.) If roughness be shown by a nurse to the dead, he must be
punished with instant dismissal, and a notification of the same must
be given by the Cemetery Commission, to the police, in order that
proper inquiry and punishment be given.

_Moral influence of seclusion from thronged places, and of decorative
Improvements in National Cemeteries, and arrangements requisite for the
satisfactory performance of Funeral Rites._

§ 172. The images presented to the mind by the _visible_ arrangements
for sepulture, are inseparably associated with the ideas of death itself
to the greater proportion of the population. Neglected or mismanaged
burial grounds superadd to the indefinite terrors of dissolution, the
revolting image of festering heaps, disturbed and scattered bones, the
prospect of a charnel house and its associations of desecration and

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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 20 of 27)