Memorandum by the Confederation of Burial
Authorities (CEM 39)
The CBA was established in 1995 by the Institute
of Burial and Cremation Administration. It has 260 members (listing
herewith). Its principal objectives are to develop, promote and
encourage proper practice for the service, to encourage professional
competence amongst those engaged in the service and to foster
mutual co-operation in all matters affecting the service.
The CBA defers to the IBCA for its technical
advice and it is a requirement that all full members agree to
adopt and abide by codes of practice promulgated by the IBCA.
The CBA has endorsed the Institute's "Charter for the Bereaved".
"The main object of a cemetery is the
disposal of the remains of the dead, in such a manner that their
decomposition and return to the earth shall not prove injurious
to the living, either by affecting health or by shocking feelings,
opinions or prejudices".
John Claudius London, Architect 1843"The
Laying Out, Planting and Management of Cemeteries".
Until the middle of the 19th century the burial
of the dead was seen as a religious function; the Church controlling
the majority of sites. Often these sites had existed for several
hundred years sustained by a system of re-use or over-burial.
However, a rapidly increasing urban population and concerns over
the insanitary conditions of many inner city sites, led to a call
for alternative provision. This call was heeded primarily by joint
stock (for profit) companies and municipal (not for profit) burial
boards. Paradoxically these cemeteries (mostly full) now offer
valuable open space relief for the living (particularly in built-up
areas) and, equally important, excellent habitats for plant and
During the period of transition from churchyard
to cemetery a large number of statutes were passed relating to
the management of cemeteries in the public sector. Most of these
have now been repealed and replaced by the Local Authorities'
Cemeteries Order 1977. Cemeteries in the private sector still
operate under the outdated Cemeteries Clauses Act 1847.
A cemetery, properly managed, will provide a
self-sustaining focus for the collective memory of a community
for generations; creating a sense of continuity and pride.
"Show me the manner in which a nation
or community cares for its dead and I shall measure with mathematical
exactness their tender mercies toward their people and their respect
for the laws of the land".
Cemeteries today range from the scandalously
neglected to the truly outstanding. The CBA has, through its sponsorship
of an annual awards scheme, sought to identify those in the latter
category. Standards generally though are poor and are set to fall
further. In the public sector this can be attributed to the continuing
indiscriminate cuts in town hall budgets. This has resulted in
the elimination of on-site security and regular maintenance. This
neglect has allowed vandalism and theft to increase and memorials,
particularly headstones, to become a hazard. Almost every burial
authority turns a blind eye to the fact that the sale of a burial
plot is a long term commitment and neglects to defer income over
the life of the contract.
Many cemeteries have or are soon to reach the
end of their lives. In the past 10 years alone an additional 400
acres has been given over to cemetery use. And this is not just
a "City" issue. Town and Parish councils regularly seek
advice from the CBA on extending existing or establishing new
burial grounds. Incidentally, many of these councils report vociferous
opposition to their plans. It is the CBA's view that a system
of re-use must be implemented soon. This would involve a process
called "lift and deepen" and would, in essence, permit
the re-cycling of graves over 100 years old where no family interest
can be establishedsee "Long-term planning for new
cemeteries and burial space" post. Such a move is
essential if more land is not to be appropriated, in many cases,
many miles distant from the communities expected to make use of
The provision and management of burial grounds
is often described as the "Cinderella" service. Ugly
sister might be more appropriate. Town Halls have regularly shifted
control between departments. No one, it seems, really wants to
talk about the dead let alone have the responsibility for burying
them. There is hardly a local government department under which
the service has not been placedeg Leisure and Recreation,
Environmental Health, Parks & Amenities and even Tourism!
In truth, the operation and management of cemeteries and crematoria
is highly specialised and complex and deserves autonomy under,
perhaps, the banner of "Bereavement Services".
At central government level one would turn until
recently to the Department of the Environment for guidance on
burial matters. Now it is the turn of the Home Office, via their
Animal, Byelaws and Coroner's Section!
During the past year the CBA has willing assisted
the latter, by providing both technical advice and funding, for
the first of a number of cemetery inspections. However, it supports
the call by the Institute of Burial and Cremation Administration
for the appointment of a full-time Inspector(ate).
In its short life CBA has also been involved
in the following:
Annual educational seminar.
Survey into London's Burial Space
NeedsRTPI award 1997.
Cemetery of the Year awardsinaugurated
Cemetery Operatives Training SchemeApril
London Cemetery & Crematorium
Management of Memorials Surveypublished
UK Directory of Cemeteries &
Regional Training Days.
The CBA recognises that disposal by cremation
is complementary and seeks a merger with the Federation of British
The CBA recognises the Institute of Burial and
Cremation Administration as the "lead" organisation
for the service.
Forward planning has exercised the minds of
responsible cemetery managers through the years. In 1944, for
instance, the institute of Burial and Cremation Administration's
forerunner, the National Association of Cemetery Superintendents,
sought to address the problem in a paper entitled "Planning
for the post-war reform in the disposition of the dead".
To place this paper in context in 1944 just 7 per cent of deaths
resulted in cremation. Today it is nearer 72 per cent.
"The ideal condition for calculating
a cemetery area for each locality would be a burial system which
would allow for indefinite re-use of graves. The Swiss method
(as at Basel) is probably the nearest modern approach to this
ideal, but it is doubted whether the full scheme would be acceptable
to established public opinion in our country. It might however
be possible to introduce the method here gradually by designing
sections of new cemeteries on these lines, with modifications
to meet our traditional usages, thereby encouraging its wider
adoption as and when the public appreciate its advantages, particularly
as the maximum utilisation of land for the benefit of the living
is so vital in the British Isles".
In 1997 the CBA, the Corporation of London and
the London Planning Advisory Committee funded a report on burial
space provision. That report, running to over 400 pages, contained
the same conclusion, namely, that the re-use of graves must be
addressed. In excess of £100,000 pounds has now been expended
on this and other studies, including a public survey into re-use.
It is a curious state of affairs that once declared
"full" a cemetery can be closed, declared disused and,
subject to certain procedures in relation to monuments and the
removal and reinterment of human remains, be redeveloped for uses
other than further burials. Re-use is the only sustainable strategy.
It has been practised in churchyards for decades. The judge in
the case of Gilbert v Buzzard (1820) said: "A burial
ground in a churchyard is not the property of one generation,
those who are now dead; it is the common property of the living
and of the generations yet unborn, and is subject only to temporary
In a paper given at the Joint Conference of
Burial & Cremation Authorities in Torquay this year, the President
of the IBCA Dr. Ian Hussein, made a case for Regional Committees.
Such a development, he commended, would eliminate the current
fragmented approach toward the provision, management and operation
of municipal burial and cremation facilities across the UK. These
facilities, he concluded, desperately need a strategic and long
term planning approach on a regional basis.
The problems, he contends, are the same wherever
Villages, towns and cities are running
out of burial space;
There is no coherent policy nor the
resources to deal with millions of old gravestones that are dilapidated
and, in many cases, unstable, making cemeteries unsafe places
The deterioration of historic cemetery
landscapes and a continual decline in the fabric and infrastructure
of our cemeteries, which date back to the middle of the 19th century
Municipal cemeteries and annual deficits
go hand in hand. We blindly subsidise burial and not cremation;
We have no strategic approach to
the control of pollution from cemeteries and crematoria.
The CBA accords with these views.