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 9 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 9 of 27)
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class of tradesmen does not appear to be much less than in London. In
Scotland, the expenses of the funerals of persons of the middle classes
appear, from a communication from Mr. Chambers, to vary from 12_l._ to
25_l._ In Glasgow the expenses of funerals of persons of the middle
class appear to vary from 12_l._ to 50_l._

§ 48. To persons of the condition of the widows of officers in the army
or navy, or of the legal profession, or of persons of the rank of gentry
who have but limited incomes, the expenses of the funerals often subject
them to severe privations during the remainder of their lives. The widow
is frequently compelled to beg pecuniary assistance for the education of
her children, which the superfluous expenses of the funerals of the
adult members of the family would have supplied; and these expenses are
incurred often in utter disregard of express requests of the dying, that
the funerals should be plain, and divested of unnecessary expense. The
expenses are often incurred equally against the wishes of the survivors.
The cause of this appears to be that the funeral arrangements, and the
determination of what is proper, and what customs shall be maintained,
fall, as shown by the evidence, to those who have a direct interest,—and
when the nature of their separate establishments are considered, are
commonly acting under a strong necessity,—in maintaining a system of
profuse expenditure. The circumstances of the death do not admit of any
effective competition or any precedent examination of the charges of
different undertakers, or any comparison and consideration of their
supplies; there is no time to change them for others that are less
expensive, and more in conformity to the taste and circumstances of the
parties. An executor who had ordered a coffin and service of the “most
simple description,” conformably to the intentions of the deceased,
expecting the coffin to cost not more than five pounds, having, under
peculiar circumstances, occasion to call for the bill previously to the
interment, found, to his surprise, that instead of five the charge for
the coffin amounted to nearly twenty pounds. “What,” he says, “could be
done? we could not turn the body out of the coffin: I would have paid
double rather than have disturbed the peace of the house on that solemn
occasion, by a dispute, or by an objection either to that charge, or to
the disgusting frippery with which those who attended the dead were
covered against their tastes.” The survivors, however, are seldom in a
state to perform any office of every-day life; and they are at the mercy
of the first comer. The supplies of the funeral goods and services, are,
therefore, a multiform monopoly, not apparently on the parts of the
chief undertakers, or original and real preparers of the funeral
materials and services, but of second or third parties living in the
immediate neighbourhood,—persons who assume the business of an
undertaker, and who obtain the first orders. The reason why the charges
are seldom or ever disputed after interment is that, however severe or
extortionate they may be, it would be more severe for the widow, or
survivor, or friends, to scrutinise the items, or resist the payment of
the total amount. Nor can it be expected of any individual to break
through such customs, however generally they may be disliked. All
isolated efforts to simplify the supplies and use of the goods and
_materiel_,—all objections to the demands for them are exposed to the
calumny that proper respect to the deceased is begrudged. A late right
reverend bishop, who thought it a moral duty to resist an extortionate
charge for such service, and he did so even in a court of law,—the
well-intended, but isolated effort, was fruitless. Another reason for
the impunity of the extortion is, that much of the funeral expenses are
from trust-funds of the higher and middle classes, who influence the
practice of the lower classes; and the trustees have but weak motives
and means to defend them. In so far as the funeral expenses are
concerned, such funds, as will appear in respect to the funds raised for
burial amongst the labouring classes, are an exposed prey.

§ 49. If there be any sort of service, which principles of civic polity,
and motives of ordinary benevolence and charity, require to be placed
under public regulation, for the protection of the private individual
who is helpless, it is surely this, at the time of extreme misery and
helplessness of the means of decent interment. On inspecting the
condition of the whole class of persons engaged in the performance of
the service of undertakers, it may be confidently stated that the class
who only act as agents, could not suffer, and must gain morally and
socially, and ultimately pecuniarily by a change that would be
beneficial to the public. No class can be otherwise than benefited by
change, from an occupation in which they are kept waiting and dependent
on profits which fall to them at wide and irregular intervals.
Notwithstanding the immensely disproportionate profits of these persons
in some cases, and the immense aggregate expenditure to the public,
there appear to be very few wealthy undertakers. They are described by
one of them, “as being some few of them very respectable, but the great
majority as men mostly in a small grubbing way of business.” In this
trade we have now the means of knowing to an unit, from the mortuary
registration, the amount of service required; and we have some means of
obtaining a proximate estimate of the number of persons engaged in its

§ 50. The number of deaths per diem in the metropolis (inclusive of the
death of those who die in the workhouses, whose interment being provided
for by the parish and union officers, are not cases for every-day
competition) is on an average of three years 114. The number of persons
whose sole business is that of undertakers, whose names are enumerated
in the Post-office Directory for the year 1843 for the metropolis is
275. Besides these there are 258 “undertakers and carpenters,” 34
“undertakers and upholsterers,” 56 “undertakers and cabinet-makers,” 51
“undertakers and builders,” 25 “undertakers and appraisers,” 19
“undertakers and auctioneers,” 7 “undertakers and house-agents,” 3
“undertakers and fancy cabinet-makers,” 2 “undertakers and packing-case
makers;” making in all no less than 730 persons for the 114 deaths, or
between six and seven undertakers waiting for the chance of every
private funeral. But these are masters who, whether they act as agents
or principals, have shops and establishments, and the list does not
include the whole of them, as the Directory is not understood to include
all the masters residing in bye-streets and places. Some have two and
three funerals per diem, and some eight or ten; and it is apparent, even
under the existing imperfect arrangements, the undertaker’s service
might be better performed by forty or fifty than by the 275 principals,
who have no other occupation, and whose establishments and expenses, as
well as the cost of their own maintenance, must, if the business be
equally distributed, be charged on little more than two funerals a-week.
If the business be not equally distributed, and a minority have (as will
have been perceived) a much larger share of the funerals than the rest,
the majority will be the more severely driven, as they are in fact, to
charge their expenses on a much smaller number of funerals. When the
additional number of tradesmen of mixed occupations are brought as
waiters for the chances of employment, the number of burials distributed
amongst them all is reduced to 10 funerals to every master in 11 weeks,
or less than one a-week each. It is stated, that much larger numbers
than are named in the Directory retain the insignia of undertakers in
their shop-windows, for the sake of the profits of one or two funerals
a-year. They merely transmit the orders to the furnishing undertaker,
who supplies materials and men at a comparatively low rate; and it is
stated that the real service is rendered by about sixty tradesmen of
this class, who compete with each other in furnishing the supplies to a
multitude of inferior tradesmen, probably exceeding 1000, amongst whom
the excessive profits arising from extortionate charges are thus
irregularly distributed. The profits of these agents or second parties
are often, however, divided with others by the system (which pursues the
head of the family to the last) of corrupting servants for their “good
word” or influence by bribes or allowances, against which the only
effectual defence is care to secure purchases at prices so low as to
preclude them. Physicians of great eminence have expressed their horror
at the facts of which they have been informed, of large sums of money
having been promised and given to head servants to secure to the
particular tradesman the performance of the funeral. The undertakers who
were questioned on the subject admitted explicitly that such is “an
occasional but not an universal practice,” and that such sums as 10_l._,
20_l._, and even 50_l._, have been known to have been given for such
orders, according to the scale of expense and profit of the funeral. One
undertaker stated that whenever a medical man took the trouble to bring
him an order for a funeral, he always, as a matter of course, paid him a
fee; and he believed it was a common practice. It was, however, only the
inferior practitioners who brought these orders. Physicians usually
carefully abstain from giving any recommendations of tradesmen in such

§ 51. Such being the state of the service as respects the multitude of
principals; the state of the service as respects the inferior dependents
is, that as at present conducted it is, as far as it goes, demoralizing.
The journeymen, who form the superfluous retinue of attendants for whom
so much expense is incurred, gain very little by their extravagant pay.
“They are,” says one master undertaker, “kept long waiting, and are
taken away to a distance from their homes, and are put to great expense
in drinking at public-houses, and acquiring very bad habits.” The
accounts given by undertakers themselves of the conduct of the men
composing the hired retinue of funerals, as at present conducted, are
corroborative of the following instance given by a gentleman who was a
witness of the scene described:—

“If the relatives of one who has been honoured with what is called a
respectable funeral could witness the scenes which commonly ensue,
even at the very place where the last ceremony has been performed,
they would be scandalized at the mockery of solemnity which has
preceded the disgusting indecency exhibited at the instant when the
mourners are removed. An empty hearse, returning at a quick pace
from a funeral, with half a dozen red-faced fellows sitting with
their legs across the pegs which held the feathers, is a common
exhibition. But let the relatives see what has preceded the ride
home of the undertaker’s men. In the spring of 1842, two friends
walked into a village inn about twelve miles from London, for the
purpose of dining. One had recently sustained a severe domestic
calamity. The inn is generally distinguished for its neatness and
quiet. All now seemed confusion. The travellers were shown up-stairs
to a comfortable room. But the shouts, the laughing, the rapping the
tables, the ringing the bells, in an adjoining room were beyond
endurance; and when the landlady appeared with her bill of fare, she
apologized for what was so different from the ordinary habit of her
guests. “Is it a club feast?” “Oh, no, gentlemen; they are the
undertaker’s men—blackguards I should say. They have been burying
poor Lord——; he was much beloved here. Shame on them. But they will
soon go back to town, for they are nearly drunk.” The travellers
left the house till it was cleared of these harpies.”

§ 52. Men of the class who are every day to be seen stopping in parties
at public houses on their return from the places of burial, are
intrusted without care or selection to perform what may be shown to be
important sanitary and civil ministrations of enshrouding and preparing
the body for burial. The impressions created by the bearing of these
coarse, unknown, unrespected, irresponsible hands, add to the revolting
popular associations with death.

The extent of the public interests affected by so much of the practice
of interment, as the undertaker’s service embraces, will be better
appreciated in a subsequent stage of this report, and after the
consideration of the facts unfolded in the course of an examination of
the influence of the expenses of funerals specifically on the states of
mind, social habits and economy of the labouring classes in towns of

_Specific Effects of the Expenses of Funerals, and Associations to
defray them amongst the Labouring Classes._

§ 53. The desire to secure respectful interment of themselves and their
relations is, perhaps, the strongest and most widely-diffused feeling
amongst the labouring classes of the population. Subscriptions may be
obtained from large classes of them for their burial when it can be
obtained neither for their own relief in sickness, nor for the education
of their children, nor for any other object. The amount of the
twenty-four millions of deposits in the savings’ banks of the United
Kingdom is 29_l._ each depositor. Judging from particular
investigations, it would appear that upwards of 5_l._ of each deposit
may be considered a sum devoted to defray the expenses of burial, and
about as much more to provide mourning and other expenses. From six to
eight millions of savings may be considered as devoted to these objects.

§ 54. The following is an answer to some inquiries on the subject from
the secretary of the St. Martin’s Lane Provident Institution, an
institution in which the deposits amount to 1,168,850_l._, and the
depositors, amounting to upwards of 32,000, comprehend some of the most
frugal and respectable of the labouring classes:—

As you wished me to mention any facts within my knowledge, arising
out of this institution and its concerns, bearing upon the question
of _sepulture_, I would first state, that the average _annual
number_ of deaths occurring amongst our depositors (now about 32,000
in number) in the course of the last nine years, has been 231;
these, taking the last of such years for an example, are divisible
under the classes shown by the subjoined statement. By reference to
this statement it will be seen how large a class of our depositors
consists of individuals of the poorer or labouring population; and
amongst that class, in regard to the question of _sepulture_, from
the opportunity afforded me of inspecting the charges made for
funerals, I should say that the expenses incurred for the funeral
and interment alone are seldom so little as 4_l._, generally amount
to 5_l._ and upwards, and not unfrequently exceed 6_l._

It is, I may observe, no uncommon practice for parties to leave
deposits in their names, about the amount I have stated, for the
very purpose of providing for the expenses of their interment, so as
to ensure for themselves, under any change of circumstances, a
decent burial; this feeling has prevailed so strongly in instances
within my own knowledge, that, upon the happening of the death, the
party has been found to have died at last an inmate of a poor house,
and destitute of every kind of property, save only the little fund
appropriated for the purpose I have stated. This feeling is not
confined solely to the poorest class of our depositors: an instance
lately occurred in which a depositor to the amount of 32_l._, made a
special request that 20_l._ of this money might, in the event of her
death, be paid only to _her undertaker_ on production of his account
and of _her burial certificate_, and the balance to be paid to her
relatives. The depositor died in the following year, and her wishes
were accordingly carried into effect, with the concurrence of a
relative, to whom it appeared she had communicated the arrangement
she had thus made in regard to her money deposited with this

Total Number ║
of Deaths in ║Total Effects of such deceased Depositions, certified as
the Year ║ under the following Amounts, viz:—
ending 31st of║
March, 1842. ║
║ │ │ │ │ │ │ │ │ Amount
║ £50 │£100 │£200 │£300 │£400 │£450 │£600 │£800 │to £1000
║ │ │ │ │ │ │ │ │ and
║ │ │ │ │ │ │ │ │upwards.
232 ║ 133 │ 32 │ 23 │ 10 │ 1 │ 5 │ 6 │ 6 │ 16

Occurrences such as those above alluded to are not unfrequent. Those
who, as paupers, have led a life of dissipation, and have saved nothing
for other objects, have yet reserved and concealed a small hoard to
provide interment in a mode agreeable to their feelings. Besides the
immense amount of money reserved for this purpose in the savings’ banks,
it forms the great object of the benefit clubs: in most large towns
there are burial clubs instituted for no other purpose. In the town of
Preston nearly 30,000 persons, men, women, and children, are associated
in six large societies for the purpose of burial; the chief of these
clubs comprehends 15,164 members, and has since its commencement
expended upwards of 1,000_l._ per annum, raised in weekly contributions,
from a halfpenny and a penny to three-halfpence and two-pence per week.
A benevolent officer, in giving an account of this club, expresses a
hope that it may be practicable, in connexion with it, to get up some
provision for the living, in the shape of medical attendance for the
sick, an object which appears to have been entirely lost sight of in
these societies. Besides the burial societies, of which the funds are
deposited in the savings’ banks, there are others in which the funds are
placed out in the hands of private persons, traders, who pay interest
upon them.

§ 55. As an example of the allowances in the provincial clubs, it may be
mentioned, that on an examination of the rules of 90 friendly societies
at present existing in the borough and town of Walsall, comprising
upwards of 5000 members, it appeared that the allowances insured for
funerals were as follows:—that

For the Funeral │ For the Funeral
of the Husband. │ of the Wife.
22 societies pay £10│36 societies pay £3
12 8│16 5
8 7│14 4
3 16│9 8
│3 6
│3 7

The burial allowances in the others were not specified.

§ 56. It must be premised, that it appears to be a serious error to
regard the arrangements of all of this class of clubs as the
arrangements of the poor people themselves; the arrangements are
evidence only of the intensity of their feelings on the subject of
interment, of their ignorance and their extensive need of information
and trustworthy guidance.

There are, for example, in Westminster, Marylebone, Finsbury, the City,
and the Tower Hamlets, districts of the metropolis, about 200 of such
societies, composed chiefly of the labouring classes, comprising from
100 to 800 members each, possessing aggregate amounts of deposits of
from 90_l._ to 1000_l._ each; raised in contributions of from
three-halfpence to two-pence per week, and paying on the death of a
member from 5_l._ to 10_l._ Besides these, there are clubs of a higher
description, mostly amongst the smallest class of tradesmen, where the
sums insured extend to sums as high as 200_l._, payable at the member’s
death, and are understood to be chiefly devoted to the payment of the
funeral expenses. The burial clubs for the labouring classes are
generally got up by an undertaker and by the publican at whose house the
club is held. The state of feeling addressed in the formation of these
societies is denoted by the terms of the placards issued at the joint
expense of the publican or of the undertaker, or rather of some mechanic
or person of another trade, who gets the business done by an undertaker.
These placards are frequently headed “In the midst of life we are in
death;” and the addresses are in such terms as the following, which is
taken from “The United Brothers’ and Sisters’ Burial Society,” held at
the Old Duke William public house, Ratcliffe Highway:—

“In contemplating the many vicissitudes and changes incident to all
persons of every station in life, and the many anxieties that crowd
about our advancing years, more particularly the labouring class,
through the uncertainty of employment, by long illness, or for want
of friends reduced to extreme distress, and after a long and
miserable life, and in expectation of that awful change which we
must one time or other undergo, without ever providing for a decent
interment, it will be some alleviation to our sufferings to remember
that we bring no pecuniary burthen on our commiserating friends and
relations, that at least we have divested our suffering families of
that anxiety respecting our mortal remains which would add another
pang to their already lacerated hearts: it too frequently occurs to
the sorrow of many a feeling heart, who mourns over the deplorable
loss of a beloved husband, wife, or friend; to obtain this desirable
object, this society offers to the public, on easy terms, advantages
worthy the consideration of persons in all stations of life.”

The terms of insurance are—

“That to defray the necessary expenses of printing books, bills,
&c., that members of the first class, if under the age of 55 years,
shall pay 1_s._ entrance, and contribute 1_s._ per month to the box
and 2_d._ per quarter to the secretary; and members of the second
class, under the age of 55 years, shall pay 6_d._ entrance, and
6_d._ per month to the box, and 2_d._ per quarter to the secretary;
and every person above the age of 55 years, and members of the first
class, to pay 2_s._ entrance, and contribute 1_s._ 6_d._ per month
to the box, and 2_d._ per quarter to the secretary; and every member
of the second class to pay 1_s._ entrance, and contribute 1_s._ per
month to the box, and 2_d._ per quarter to the secretary. No more
than 20 members will be admitted above the age of 60 years. They to
be free in 12 months; nor shall any article that may be hereafter
made exclude them.”

The benefits insured are to be—

“That at the death of a free member, immediate notice shall be given
to T. Scotcher, undertaker, who shall perform the funeral, and he
shall inform one of the committee, and the first meeting night after
the burial, his or her relation, next of kin, or nominee, on
producing satisfactory evidence, will be entitled (if a member of
the first class) to the sum of 10_l._; if a member of the second
class, and above seven years, to 5_l._; if under the age of seven
years, to 3_l._; but when the stock of this society amounts to

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 9 of 27)