114. Buried human remains may not be removed
or disturbed without a Home Office licence or, in certain circumstances,
a faculty, or except otherwise as may be provided for by statute
to enable burial grounds to be developed for other purposes.
Home Office licences are not granted for the purpose of reusing
the grave for further burials.
As a result, whereas old cemeteries may be reused for residential,
commercial or other development, they may not be reused as burial
It is the Government's view that further legislation would be
needed to enable such reuse to take place.
115. Dr Tony Walter set out in his memorandum the
history behind this situation, and its consequences:
Throughout the Middle Ages,
throughout western Europe, the dead were buried in or around the
local church. Old bones made way for new burials, rendering the
system sustainable for centuries. It became unsustainable for
a) From the 17th century,
the fashion arose of seeing the grave as family property, along
with the desire of the middle classes for a perpetual grave. The
churchyard above ground began to fill up with perpetual memorials.
b) From the late 18th century, the population
explosion meant that new burials were uncovering not old bones
but still rotting flesh - hence the burial crisis of the early
to mid 19th century. The urban churchyard below ground was now
In other European countries, the 19th century burial
crisis was resolved by creating new cemeteries in which re-use
of graves was not, as before, ad hoc, but carefully planned.
Leases were given for a set number of years ... after this period,
the lease could be renewed (as often as the family liked and were
willing to pay for); otherwise, the grave became available for
a new family. The consequence is that, throughout Europe today,
many communities of quite high population density retain a local
cemetery which sustains the ongoing burial of local residents.
By definition, no grave is an unwanted grave; they are all tended;
vandalism is low; revenue continues to come in; and the prime
purpose of the cemetery can be fulfilled. Those who wish a perpetual
grave may buy one - but they pay a realistic price for it.
In the UK, by contrast, the
19th century burial crisis was solved by creating large out-of-town
cemeteries with perpetual graves. Partly because of the fear of
the anatomist, [people] aspired to a single and undisturbable
grave. Cemeteries began to fill up; as towns developed, the out-of-town
cemetery was no longer out-of-town. Revenue began to decline as
the number of remaining available graves declined, at the same
time that surrounding land values were increasing. The urban cemetery
began to become a liability. Some of the private cemetery companies
were taken over by municipalities, who in the mid 20th century
turned to cremation as the cost-effective solution to the 20th
century burial crisis - a crisis which was now financial, compared
to the public health crisis of the 19th century. Urban cemeteries
typically have large areas where old graves are no longer visited;
there is not the revenue to maintain these graves properly, and
vandals and substance abusers find these unfrequented urban wildernesses
a haven for their nefarious activities. ... The UK, therefore,
has inherited a solution to the 19th century burial crisis that
- uniquely in the western world - is unsustainable.