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 8 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 8 of 27)
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the dangers of permanent bodily injury. The sufferings of the survivors,
especially of the widow of the labouring classes, are often protracted
to a fatal extent. To the very young children, the greatest danger is of
infection in cases of deaths from contagious and infectious disease. To
the elder children and members of the family and inmates, the moral evil
created by the retention of the body in their presence beyond the short
term during which sorrow and depression of spirits may be said to be
natural to them is, that familiarity soon succeeds, and respect
disappears. These consequences are revealed by the frequency of the
statements of witnesses, that the deaths of children immediately
following, of the same disease of which the parent had died, had been
accounted for by “the doctor,” or the neighbours, in the probability
that the child had caught the disease by touching the corpse or the
coffin, whilst playing about the room in the absence of the mother. Dr.
Reicke, in the course of his dissertation on the physical dangers from
exposure to emanations from the remains, mentions an instance where a
little child having struck the body of the parent which had died of a
malignant disease, the hand and arm of the child was dangerously
inflamed with malignant pustules in consequence. The mental effects on
the elder children or members of the family of the retention of the body
in the living room, day after day, and during meal times, until
familiarity is induced,—retained, as the body commonly is, during all
this time in the _sordes_ of disease, the progress of change and
decomposition disfiguring the remains and adding disgust to
familiarity,—are attested to be of the most demoralizing character. Such
deaths occur sooner or later in various forms in every poor family; and
in neighbourhoods where there are no sanitary regulations, where they
are ravaged by epidemics, such scenes are doubly familiar to the whole

§ 41. Astonishment is frequently excited by the cases which abound in
our penal records indicative of the prevalence of habits of savage
brutality and carelessness of life amongst the labouring population; but
crimes, like sores, will commonly be found to be the result of wider
influences than are externally manifest; and the reasons for such
astonishment, will be diminished in proportion as those circumstances
are examined, which influence the minds and habits of the population
more powerfully than precepts or book education. Among these
demoralizing circumstances, which appear to be preventible or removable,
are those which the present inquiry brings to light. Disrespect for the
human form under suffering, indifference or carelessness at death,—or at
that destruction which follows as an effect of suffering—is rarely found
amongst the uneducated, unconnected with a callousness to others’ pain,
and a recklessness about life itself. A known effect on uneducated
survivors of the frequency of death amongst youth or persons in the
vigour of life, is to create a reckless avidity for immediate enjoyment.
Some examples of the demoralization attendant on such circumstances
cannot but be apparent in the evidence arising in the course of this
inquiry into other practices connected with interments.

§ 42. On submitting the above to a friend, a clergyman, whose
benevolence has carried him to alleviate the sufferings in several
hundred death-bed scenes in the abodes of the labouring classes, and who
has been present, perhaps, at every death in his own flock, in a
wretchedly crowded parish, he writes in the following terms his

“The whole of this I can testify, from personal knowledge, to be just.
With the upper classes, a corpse excites feelings of awe and respect;
with the lower orders, in these districts, it is often treated with as
little ceremony as the carcase in a butcher’s shop. Nothing can exceed
their desire for an imposing funeral; nothing can surpass their efforts
to obtain it; but the deceased’s remains share none of the reverence
which this anxiety for their becoming burial would seem to indicate. The
inconsistency is entirely, or at least in great part, to be attributed
to a single circumstance—that the body is never absent from their
sight—eating, drinking, or sleeping, it is still by their side; mixed up
with all the ordinary functions of daily life, till it becomes as
familiar to them as when it lived and moved in the family circle. From
familiarity it is a short step to desecration. The body, stretched out
upon two chairs, is pulled about by the children, made to serve as a
resting-place for any article that is in the way, and is not seldom the
hiding-place for the beer-bottle or the gin if any visitor arrives
inopportunely. Viewed as an outrage upon human feeling, this is bad
enough; but who does not see that when the respect for the dead, that
is, for the human form in its most awful stage, is gone, the whole mass
of social sympathies must be weakened—perhaps blighted and destroyed? At
any rate, it removes that wholesome fear of death which is the last hold
upon a hardened conscience. They have gazed upon it so perpetually, they
have grown so intimate with its terrors, that they no longer dread it,
even when it attacks themselves, and the heart which vice has deadened
to every appeal of religion is at last rendered callous to the natural
instinct of fear.”

That it is possible by legislative means to stay the progress of this
dreadful demoralization, which must, if no further heed be taken of it,
go on with the increased crowding of an increasing population; that it
is possible to abate the mental and physical suffering; to extend to the
depressed urban districts an acceptable and benign and elevating
influence on such impressive occasions; may be confidently affirmed, and
will in a subsequent stage of this Report be endeavoured to be shown by
reference to actual examples of successful measures.

_Expenses of Funerals and their effects on the Living._

§ 43. The practice of the long retention of the dead before burial being
the one from which the greatest evil accrues, the circumstances by which
the practice is chiefly influenced are the first submitted for

The causes which influence this practice amongst the greatest number of
the population appear to be, first, the expense of funerals—next, the
delay in making arrangements for the funeral,—the natural reluctance to
part with the remains of the deceased, and occasionally a feeling of
apprehension, sometimes expressed on the part of the survivors, against
premature interment.

The expense of interments, though it falls with the greatest severity on
the poorest classes, acts as a most severe infliction on the middle
classes of society, and governs so powerfully the questions in respect
to the present and future administrative arrangements, and involves so
many other evils, as to require as complete an exposition as possible of
its extent and operation.

The testimony of witnesses of the most extensive experience is of the
following tenor in London and the crowded town districts of England. Mr.
Byles, the surgeon, of Spitalfields, in reference to the delay of
interments, states—

The difficulty of raising the subscription to bury the dead, is I
apprehend one chief cause of the delay. When, in the instance of the
death of a child, I ask why it cannot be interred earlier, the usual
reply is, we cannot raise the money earlier.

Mr. Wild, the undertaker, states—

The time varies from five to twelve days. This arises from the
difficulty of procuring the means of making arrangements with the
undertaker, and the difficulty of getting mourners to attend the
funeral. They have a great number to attend, neighbours,
fellow-workmen, as well as relations. The mourners with them vary
from five to eight couple; it is always an agreement for five couple
at the least.

One of the witnesses of the labouring classes, who had acted as
secretary to an extensive burial society, gives the following account of
the causes which operate to produce the delay.

What is the average length of time they remain unburied?—Never less
than a week. If they die in the middle of the week they are
generally kept until the Sunday week. I have known instances,
however, where they have been kept as long as a fortnight.

What have been the causes of this retention of the body?—In general
it has been the want of money to defray the dues. In some cases,
however, the widow has been reluctant to part with the corpse.

In what proportion of cases has this occurred?—It may have been in
one case in thirty, as far as I can recollect.

§ 44. Mr. Baker, the coroner, stated to me that he has met with some
cases where inquests have been promoted in consequence of suspicions
excited amongst neighbours on account of the delay of interments; it
turned out that the deaths had been natural, and that the delay had
arisen from the difficulty of procuring money to defray the funeral
expenses. Mr. Bell, who for several years acted as clerk to Mr.
Stirling, the late coroner for Middlesex, even cites several dreadful
cases of children found dead in the metropolis, in which, on inquiry, it
was proved that the deaths were natural, but that the bodies had been
actually abandoned in consequence of the difficulty of raising the money
for interment, and the reluctance to apply for parochial aid.

§ 45. The nature of the expenses of interments in London, and their
operation on the whole practice, are most fully developed in the
examination of Mr. Wild.

Supposing the expenses of interment reduced, and the conveniences
increased, do you think that there would be much or any reluctance
to early interment, on account of any general feeling of dislike on
the part of the survivors to earlier removals or interments?—No, I
do not think there would be any reluctance.

In cases where the obstacles arising from the expense and the
inconvenience preventing the attendance of friends do not exist, is
there a frequent reluctance expressed to early interment?—It is not
frequent. Sometimes, but very seldom, the deceased may have
expressed a wish not to be hurried out of the house soon after he
was dead.

Do you find that there is less delay amongst the higher and middle
classes?—There is certainly much less delay amongst them; but with
them the corpses are early placed either in lead or in double
coffins, and the delay is of less consequence.

Amongst the poorer classes, is not the widow often made ill during
the protracted delay of the burial?—Yes, very often. They have come
to me in tears, and begged for accommodation, which I have given
them. On observing to them, you seem very ill: a common reply is,
“Yes, I feel very ill. I am very much harassed, and I have no one to
assist me.” I infer from such expressions that the mental anxiety
occasioned by the expense, and want of means to obtain the money, is
the frequent cause of their illness. My opinion is, that unless the
undertaker gave two-thirds of them time or accommodation for
payment, they would not be able to bury the dead at all.

Do you consider that funerals in general are made unnecessarily
expensive?—Yes, they are, even under their present system
unnecessarily expensive. The average price of funerals amongst the
working classes for adults will be about 4_l._ This sum generally
provides a good strong elm coffin, bearers to carry the corpse to
the grave, pall and fittings for mourners. For children the average
cost is 30_s._, but these charges do not include ground and burial

Are they so even when the funerals are provided by burial societies,
and made the subject of special attention?—In benefit societies and
burial clubs there is generally a certain sum set aside for the
burial, which sum is, I consider, frequently most extravagantly
expended. This arises from the secretary, or some other officer of
the club being an undertaker. When a death takes place the club
money is not paid directly: it is usually paid on the club or
quarterly night following. The member dying seldom leaves any money
beyond the provision in his club to bury him, consequently the widow
or nominee makes application to the secretary, who tells her that he
cannot give any money to purchase mourning for herself and family
until the committee meets; this may be three months after the death;
but, says the secretary, “give me the funeral, I will advance you a
few pounds upon my own account;” so that the widow is obliged to
submit to any charge he may think fit to make. I do not mean to be
understood that this is always the case—I am sorry to say it is of
frequent occurrence.

In general, are not the expenses of burial in the Dissenters’
burial-grounds less than those of burial in the grounds belonging to
the Established Church?—On the average one-third less.

On the occasion of burial in Dissenters’ burial-grounds, is any
question ever raised as to whether the deceased was a subscribing
member of the community to which the grounds belong?—No question is
ever asked.

Of corpses of the labouring classes whom you yourself have buried in
the burial-grounds of Dissenters, how many will have been of
subscribing members of the community to which the grounds
belong?—Not one in twenty.

Then the preference arises from the greater cheapness of the burial
in those grounds?—Yes, and the greater convenience. The burial,
instead of being fixed at one particular hour, as in cases of
burials in the Church, may be had within a range of three hours.
This convenience has a great influence on the choice of places of

Have burials in the Dissenters’ grounds been increasing of
late?—Very much: their places of burial are in general no better;
they are, indeed, in some instances worse than the grounds belonging
to the parish churches, but they would, probably, have enlarged and
improved them, and, at the rate at which they have proceeded, they
would soon have three-fourths of all the burials;—chiefly on account
of the increased cheapness and accommodation attendant on their

Are the ordinary expenses and inconveniences of funerals generally
severely oppressive to persons of the middle classes?—Very
generally: it often occurs that a poor widow is crippled in her
means through life by the expense of a funeral. An ordinary funeral,
burial fees and all, will cost from 50_l._ to 70_l._, which will
deprive her of 5_l._ a year from ten to fourteen years, besides the

Without any deductions of the solemnity, for how much less might
such a funeral be performed?—For about 50 per cent. less. Indeed, I
have proved that practically for some time past.

Is not much of the accompaniments of funerals which, as at present
conducted, are deemed part of the solemnity, questionable in its
effect as well as appropriateness? Is it not the effect of custom,
rather than any choice or wish of the parties?—Merely customary: the
term used in giving orders is, “provide what is customary.”

Are you aware that the array of funerals, commonly made by
undertakers, is strictly the heraldic array of a baronial funeral,
the two men who stand at the doors being supposed to be the two
porters of the castle, with their staves, in black; the man who
heads the procession, wearing a scarf, being a representative of a
herald-at-arms; the man who carries a plume of feathers on his head
being an esquire, who bears the shield and casque, with its plume of
feathers; the pall-bearers, with batons, being representatives of
knights-companions-at-arms; the men walking with wands being
supposed to represent gentlemen-ushers, with their wands:—are you
aware that this is said to be the origin and type of the common
array usually provided by those who undertake to perform
funerals?—No; I am not aware of it.

It may be presumed that those who order funerals are equally unaware
of the incongruity for which such expense is incurred?—Undoubtedly
they are.

What is the cost of porters, the men who bear staves covered with
black?—The cost of the mutes varies from 18_s._ to 30_s._ In some
cases of respectable persons, where silk scarfs or fittings,
including hat-bands and gloves, are used, 5_l._ 5_s._ is charged to
families for those fittings. To parties in moderate circumstances,
two guineas would be charged for the fittings and the pay.

What is the charge for the person who walks with a scarf?—The usual
charge to a respectable family would be a guinea, besides fittings,
scarfs, gloves, and hat-bands, which would altogether amount to
about two guineas and a half for this man.

What is the charge for the plume of feathers borne on the head
before the hearse?—The charge for the feathers would be about two
guineas; then there is the man’s gloves, scarf, and fittings, which
make it about three guineas and a-half.

What is the charge per man bearing batons?—The charge, including
silk fittings, will be about 22_s._ each man.

What is the charge for each man bearing a wand?—About the same

How many men of this description would be required for what is
deemed a respectable funeral?—About twenty men; for if the coffin be
a leaden one it would require about eight men to bear it.

What other charges are there of the same kind?—There are velvets
attached to the hearse, including feathers, and feathers to the
horses, which makes from ten to fifteen guineas more.

What is charged for the pall?—From one to four guineas would be
charged for the use of the pall.

What is it usual to give to the clergyman?—A silk scarf of three
yards and a half, a silk hatband, and black kid gloves.

What may be the expense of this?—About two guineas to the parties.

Is anything usually given to the clerk?—Yes, the same as to the

Is anything given to the sexton?—Yes, they do in respectable
families, or rather the undertaker does so, for his own gain. The
cost of the whole,—minister, sexton, and undertaker, will be about
seven guineas to a respectable family, but it is usual to compound
the matter by giving them money; I generally give the minister
18_s._, and the clerk 15_s._, and the sexton, perhaps, 15_s._

Is such an array as that described adopted in the case of the
funerals of tradesmen as well as of other classes?—They have
frequently the same number of men.

A clergyman’s widow, who has solicited aid for her sons, whom she
has found it difficult to educate, states that the expenses of her
husband’s funeral were upwards of 110_l._ On being asked how she
could incur such an expense, she states that she considered it her
duty to have a respectable funeral, and ordered the undertaker to
provide what was respectable; that she knew not what she ordered in
that condition, and merely gave general orders. Now is not this a
frequent case, and is not the undertaker’s usual interpretation of
respectability that which is expensive, the parties knowing little
about it?—Yes, that is frequently so.

In the case of funerals of persons of moderate respectability
costing, say about 60_l._, how many of such men as those described
would there be attending it?—About fourteen.

For a curate, or person of that condition, would there be that
number and array?—Yes.

What would be the expense of the funeral of a person of the
condition of an attorney?—From 60_l._ to 100_l._; but this would not
include the expense of tomb or monument, or burial-fees.

If a person of such a condition were buried, would it be of about
twenty attendants, with such an array as that described?—Yes; for
such a person the cost would be about 100 guineas, exclusive of the

There would then be the same number of attendants as those
mentioned, about twenty men?—Yes, about twenty men.

The funeral being ordered of an upholsterer, is it not usually
provided by an undertaker?—Yes.

In how many cases of funerals will there be “the second profit?”—In
nearly two-thirds of the cases of burial in the upper classes.

Is the same observation applicable to the funerals amongst the
middle classes?—Yes; I think in nearly the same proportion.

How much of the profit will be the profit of the upholsterer?—Nearly
half: if the funeral costs 50_l._ to the upholsterer from the
undertaker, it will cost about 100_l._ from the undertaker to the

Is there much credit given in the business to respectable
families?—Not much; for as soon as letters of administration are
taken out the funeral expenses are discharged.

The average expense of the funeral of an adult of the labouring
class being about 4_l._, exclusive of the burial fees, and that of a
child about 30_s._, what may be stated to be the ordinary expense of
the funeral of a tradesman of the lowest class, as ordinarily
conducted?—Of the very lowest class—of a class in condition not much
beyond that of a mechanic, the funeral expenses might be from 10_l._
to 12_l._

What would be the ordinary expense for the funeral of a child of a
person of this class?—The ordinary expense would be about 5_l._

What would be the ordinary expense of the funeral of a tradesman of
a better class?—From 70_l._ to 100_l._

What do you consider would be a low average for the ordinary expense
of the whole class of tradesmen’s funerals?—About 50_l._ would, I
consider, be a low average for the whole class.

What may be considered the average of ordinary expenses of the
funerals of children of the class dying below 10 years of age?—About

Might 100_l._ be taken as the average expense of the funeral of a
person of the condition of a gentleman?—No; they range from 200_l._
to 1,000_l._ I think that 150_l._ would be a low average.

What may be considered the ordinary expense of the funeral of a
child of this class?—About 30_l._ would be the average.

What may be the ordinary expense of the funerals of persons of rank
or title?—The expense varies from 500_l._ to 1500_l._ A large part
of this expense has, however, commonly been for the removal of the
remains from town to the family vault by a long cavalcade moving by
very slow stages; but the conveyance by railway makes as much as
500_l._ difference in the expense of a funeral of this class.

What may be the average expense of the funeral of a child of this
class?—About 50_l._

Do you believe it to be practicable, by proper regulations, greatly
to reduce the existing charges of interments?—Yes; a very great
reduction indeed may be made, at least 50 per cent.

May it be confidently stated that under such reductions, whatever of
respectability in exterior is now attached to the trappings, or to
the mode of the ceremony, might be preserved?—Oh, yes; I should say
it might, and that they could scarcely fail to be increased.

§ 46. Mr. Dix, an undertaker, who inters from 800 to 1000 persons
annually, of whom about 300 are of the class of independent labourers,
being questioned on this topic, stated as follows:—

The lowest average expense of a poor man’s burial, from extensive
evidence, is stated to be about 5_l._; but that is where it is done,
as it usually is, second or third hand. I frequently perform
funerals three deep: that is, I do it for one person, who does it
for another who does it for the relatives of the deceased, he being
the first person applied to.

The people then generally apply to the nearest person?—Yes, they do.
Everybody calls himself an undertaker. The numerous men employed as
bearers become undertakers, although they have never done anything
until they have got the job. I have known one of these men get a new
suit of clothes out of the funeral of one decent mechanic.

§ 47. The conclusions in respect to the unnecessary expense of funerals
appear to be applicable, with little variation, to the most populous
provincial towns. In the rural districts the expense of funerals of the
class of gentry appears to be even more expensive. In most of the
provincial towns the expense of the funerals of the more respectable

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 8 of 27)