|Adapted from the website of The Cremation Society of Great Britain at www.srgw.demon.co.uk/CremSoc/|
A Brief Introduction & History
|Cremation as a funeral rite is probably most frequently associated with societies such as those of the Vikings, even though the first recorded mention of cremation is in the Bible, when according to the Book of Genesis, Abraham is ordered by God to prepare a funeral pyre for his son Isaac.
Cremation was the commonly adopted practice for the disposal of the dead in the Greek and Roman worlds. However, with the coming of Christianity and its belief in the resurrection of the dead, cremation fell out of favour and within four hundred years the practice had become obsolete in Western Europe, and in Britain was illegal for many centuries.
The process of reversing what advocates of cremation see as a triumph of conservatism, custom and prejudice was a very gradual one, but gathered momentum in the 19th Century, especially when the cause was taken up by Sir Henry Thompson, Bart., F.R.C.S., Surgeon to Queen Victoria, who founded The Cremation Society in 1874. The first crematorium in Britain was built at Woking, and in March 1879 the process was successfully tested on the carcass of a horse.
However, there were objections from local residents and clergy, and these were supported by the Home Secretary, who feared that cremation might be used to prevent the detection of death following violence or poison, and refused to allow the continuance of the practice until Parliament itself had authorised it by either a general or special act. What therefore had to be established was the legality of cremation.
The turning point came in 1884, when in a landmark judgement on the prosecution of an individual for conducting a cremation on private land, Mr. Justice Stephen delivered the all-important pronouncement that cremation is legal provided no nuisance is caused in the process to others. Cremations began in earnest at Woking in 1885, and creamtoria were built in other cities: Manchester 1892, Glasgow 1895, and Liverpool 1897. London's second crematorium was scheduled for Golders Green in 1901, and crematoria opened in Sunderland, Tyneside and Hull. the latter was a key event : Hull Crematorium was the first municipal cremaorium in the country. previously, cremations were conducted under the aegis of The Cremation Society. Now for the first time a municipal local authority had accepted how important it was, both socially and economically, to provide cremation services for the community.
The most significant year in the history of cremation in Great Britain was however 1902. It saw two key events: the opening of Golders Green crematorium by the President of The Cremation Society, crowning their work since 1874, and the passing of an Act of Parliament for the Regulation of burning of human remains, and to enable burial authorities to established crematoria. Thus cremation had achieved a form of governmental regulation and it thereby became officially recognised in the highest quarters.
Through the 20th Century, the numbers of people cremation showed a steady rise. In 1914 it was 1,279; by 1934 the figure had risen to 8,337. In the years 1936-9, 25 new crematoria were built, including one at Northampton. Kettering crematorium was built in 1940. By 1946 the annual total of creamtions stood at 50,000 - showing that an ever-growing number ofthe public was prepared to accept cremation. The one hundredth creamorium in the country was opened at Salford in 1957, and numbers of crematoria and cremations have steadily grown since.
The above brief summary has considered things from a secular point of view, but the stance of many denominations and faiths regarding cremation should also be considered. The International Cremation Federation fought for many years for the repeal of the canons forbidding Roman Catholics to adopt cremation. Eventually in July 1963 the Pope proclaimed it legal within the Church to seek cremation without incurring the penalties hitherto attached to such action. However, it was not until 1966 that the ban on Roman Catholic priests conducting services in crematoria was lifted. The result of these two papal edicts was that by 1965 1,000 Roman Catholics had been cremated, all without the presence of a priest in the crematorium, and by 1966 2,350 Roman Catholic cremations had taken place, about 600 of which had had the ceremony performed by a priest in the actual crematorium.
Today the positions of various faiths and denominations over cremation is as follows: