Memorandum by S L Yates, Superintendent
and Registrar (Epsom Cemetery) (CEM 62)
Prior to the industrial revolution the provision
of burial grounds was almost entirely the responsibility of the
church. As people began moving from the rural areas seeking work
in mills and factories etc. the churchyards in those areas soon
became literally full to overflowing. This forced parliament between
the years 1852-1906 to pass 15 Burial Acts, these Acts gave powers
to District, Borough and Parish Councils to become Burial Authorities.
Most of these Acts have now been repealed and replaced by The
Local Government Act 1972, with cemeteries being provided under
the provision of The Local Authorities Cemeteries Order 1977.
A number of private cemeteries were opened by far sighted persons
and these were regulated by The Cemeteries Clauses Act 1847. This
Act is still in force.
The then named Epsom Urban District Council
formed its own Burial Board in 1860 and sought the acquisition
of land on which to establish a cemetery. The site chosen was
an area bordered by the formally named Loop Road, Middle Downs
Road, and Lower Downs Road.
The land stretching right up to Epsom Downs
was designated for cemetery use.
The area was owned by Lord Rosebery but was
given under caveat to the council together with other areas for
cemetery and recreational use.
Lord Rosebery lived at a house called the Ladas
and was determined not to allow development of any of the areas
surrounding his home in Chalk Lane, Epsom. Lord Rosebery succeeded
Gladstone as Prime Minister in 1904 but was only in office for
one year. After this period he concentrated his efforts in local
The original site was only about four acres
but as only five interments were carried out in the first year
of opening, one can only assume that the site was considered sufficient
at that time.
The twin chapels, the lodge and the main gate
were designed by William Young and building started in the late
1860s. Sixty thousand tons of Kentish Rag Stone was used in the
construction of the perimeter walls, chapels and lodge. The stone
was brought by rail to the old station in Upper High Street and
transported by horse and cart to the site. I am informed that
the "Drayman" was paid twopence a load.
In 1923 space was running out and the council
approached Lord Rosebery for more land. However his Lordship was
so incensed that the council had allowed a game of football to
be played on Rosebery Park that he charged the council £2000
for the land then gave the money to charity.
The cemetery has been extended at regular intervals
since until the last tranche in 1995 and now covers an area of
approximately 24 acres. We still are able to add an additional
four acres should the need arise.
The first burial took place on the 15 June 1871,
the deceased, Elizabeth Dorling was the wife of the Reverend Henry
Dorling who was the Clerk to Epsom Racecourse.
Henry Dorling paid seven pounds, seven shillings
and six pence for the grave space. The cost of an ordinary space
at that time would have been one pound eleven shillings and six
pence with the cost of interment at a princely three shillings
and six pence.
The following year (1872) 76 burials took place
and the numbers have steadily increased until the present day
when we average approximately 250 burials per year. In the early
years the wealthy chose to have brick vaults built in the front
row spaces and some having whole areas enclosed.
Some would argue that the elaborate memorials
reflected the vanity of the living rather than the honour of the
dead. Many of the prominent families of Epsom chose the site as
their final resting-place.
Lord Russell of Killoween and other members
of his family including Bertrand Russell the philosopher are buried
here in Epsom, the rich, the famous, the infamous and the ordinary,
we are all equal in death.
In the beginning it was unusual for ordinary
people to purchase a grave space, but the law allowed people of
the same family to be buried in that space providing they died
within a period of 14 years. These were referred to as "Common
Graves". The church used a similar system.
For those unfortunates who dies intestate a
"Public or Paupers" grave was deemed to become their
last resting place, it was the practice in Epsom to bury up to
13 adults in one grave space, this meant digging to a depth of
We still have "Public" graves but
now restrict the number of interments to four. Some of the older
"Public" graves contain the bodies of 45 children.
This can be quite upsetting for relatives who
come to trace their family trees.
Cemeteries tend to be the "Cinderella"
of services when it comes to local government, with more emphasis
being put into the provision of sports facilities, shopping malls,
parks and gardens etc. Many of my colleagues feel that the service
should be run under its own or a national committee rather than
being tacked onto the end of some other department such as Technical
Services, Environmental Health etc. I would tend to agree with
Many cemeteries dating from the Victorian era
have been allowed due to the lack of funds or insight to fall
into disrepair, new Health and Safety Recommendations regarding
memorial safety will require local authorities to make funds available
to rectify the situation. This has resulted in high profile cases
where councils have disposed of the sites.
The cemetery should be regarded as an asset
rather than a liability, they should not be allowed to slip into
disrepair or become vandalised. The sites are steeped in local
history, the memorials, although not to everyone's taste reflect
a craftsmanship now largely lost. An opportunity still exists
especially in urban areas, to turn a dilapidated site into an
area of peace and tranquillity. With just a little thought and
planning it is possible to create a small oasis in a mad world.
With cash strapped councils the funding for
cemeteries is being made more difficult when a churchyard is closed
by orders and the costs for "keeping in good order"
is then transferred to the local authority. The term keeping in
good order is open to question and does this apply to the memorials?
Some recent tragic events have highlighted the need for the safety
of memorials to be checked regularly. With the church retaining
ownership of the land and little or no records existing to show
who owns the memorial, the question of responsibility raises its
ugly head. There is an urgent need nationally to clarify the position,
to set a recognised standard of maintenance and to establish a
funding procedure. It is felt generally that the ratepayers of
the borough should not have to meet these costs. Funding for cemeteries
can be partly offset by income raised through the sale of grave
spaces and interment fees; this of course is not the case in closed
With land (particularly in the south) at a premium
and the demand for more housing, land for cemetery use becomes
less of a priority. Should new sites not be an option then other
ways of maintaining and providing the service will need to be
The government and local authorities will need
to embark on a program of re-education. A great number of people,
especially the elderly are deeply suspicious of the cremation
process, silly stories abound about what actually happens once
the coffin has disappeared from view. The costs that have tended
to increase lately should be reviewed in order to make it more
financially attractive. People must be convinced that the service
will be carried out with all due reverence and dignity and closely
regulated. I am also aware that in our multicultural society this
may prove unacceptable to many sections of our community. Some
religious groups regard committal to the flames as being an insult
to the dead.
In a democracy the people should be allowed
to decide, and I would not be an advocate of compulsory cremation.
For those who insist on earthen burial, it should be available,
however they must be prepared to bear the full cost.
Some may consider that the private sector should
or could provide this essential service, I would argue that if
the private sector is to take over all of the functions formally
provided by councils, then why a council?
The costs of running a municipal cemetery have
always been subsidised by the ratepayers. With the private sector,
profit can take precedence over service, people will have less
choice and market forces will dictate prices.
With the majority of crematoria now in the hands
of the private sector and the likelihood of cemeteries following
suit, there are fears that the service is being monopolised by
the big players. Codes of practice are in place but are the private
sector capable of policing themselves? Best Value may show otherwise.
Many of our "industry" believe that
the answer must lie in the reuse of graves and/or in better management
of existing space. It is wasteful to dig a grave for one person
only, policy should indicate that all new graves be dug to accommodate
four persons. In this manner you are providing for the future.
Terms of Grant should be reduced; this would enable spaces that
have not been filled to capacity to be used for further interments
and generate more income.
A more radical approach would be to allow authorities
after 75 years from the last burial, to exhume and cremate the
remains and then re-bury them at the maximum depth.
This would require a change in the law, however
it is felt that the present confusing laws of burial and cremation
need to be looked at again and revised. Changes in the systems
would allow local authorities to review policy on closed churchyards;
this could result in more space being made available.
The advent of Compulsory Competitive Tendering
in the late eighties has in many cases meant that the cost of
grounds maintenance has increased. People were thrust into writing
specifications that had very little experience of what was required
or an understanding of the financial implications. Some authorities
believed that the corporate approach was best and the cemeteries
were grouped together with other services of a similar nature.
Many contracts are based on Bills of Quantity or Schedules of
Rates instead of being a quality document. In some cases history
dictated the levels of service (eg we have always done it this
The role of the manager has changed radically
over the last few years, many now have to manage and monitor a
contract as well. It is vital that any contract will include clauses
relating to the proficiency of persons engaged on grave digging/groundwork's.
Contracts of this type need to be reviewed and
where necessary re-negotiated to bring down costs.
It is not difficult given a little thought to
put together an acceptable standard of maintenance, that is both
aesthetically pleasing as well as being cost effective. A visit
to the CWGC Cemeteries of Northern France and Belgium proves this
One of the most important aspects of the service
are the persons actively engaged on service delivery, there are
no rehearsals in this job, and it has to be right every time.
Experience has shown that many have found themselves running a
cemetery simply because their own position had become redundant.
It may well have been a case of take on the new role or be unemployed.
Superintendents/Managers must receive the proper
training and training budgets must be made available. The Institute
of Burial and Cremation Administration go a long way to meet this
need, however I know that many students pay their own fees. Not
all councils are prepared to pay the subscriptions for their staff
to become members of any relevant institutions or associations
and this can result in up to date information/procedures not being
available to the staff concerned.
Central government should fulfil and fund this
All cemetery/crematoria Managers/Superintendents
should be able to demonstrate a level of competency in both cemetery
management and law before being appointed. The new Health and
Safety at Work Act coupled with Risk Assessments etc. need to
be clearly understood.
A recognised qualification and perhaps a career
structure may go a long way to encourage higher quality personnel
into the service.
There needs to be a government inspectorate with
powers to act
A referral system should be in place if a Manager/Superintendent
needs advice. In many cases because of cut backs within an authority
it can be difficult to obtain the answer/advice on a technical
or legal problem. The Inspectorate should make regular visits
to sites to ensure that authorities are conforming to the regulations/statutes.
Standards of service delivery/regulations should
be uniform across the country
The Charter for the Bereaved, published by the
IBCA lays the foundations for service delivery, however dependent
on the size (and will) of the authority not all of the requirements
can or are being met.
Standards of service should not depend on your
At a time when they are at their most vulnerable,
and not always thinking clearly or rationally, the bereaved should
not be pushed into expecting a lower level of service or made
to feel part of a production line.
Options should be always clearly and sympathetically
Regulations are important, there are no reasons
why they could not be uniform across the country. They should
be clear, concise and justifiable. Many Regulations in cemeteries
are historical; they are not in line with modern thinking or practice,
however one must be mindful of older residents and their feelings.
Authorities should consult more with their residents,
find out what they expect or want from the service. Partnerships
with the private sector or more involvement with user groups could
be the way forward. Some smaller boroughs should explore the possibility
of pooling resources; becoming joint authorities can often result
in lower administration costs.
I firmly believe that local authorities should
continue to provide this most important service. It should not
be offloaded onto the private sector unless it can be clearly
demonstrated that the residents will benefit through choice and
The service must be regulated and monitored
by central government.
All staff should be able to obtain an NVQ in
A nationally recognised qualification.
Standards of service delivery to be set nationally.
Regulations should be uniform.
Burial law to be reviewed and updated.
Closed churchyards to be funded by central government.
The views expressed in the report above are
entirely that of the author and not of the local authority.
S L Yates