What were Burial Acts?

Burial Acts, in Britain, were passed between 1852 and 1906, to govern the place and manner of burial. Systematic legislation was required to meet the new problems arising from the growth of urban centers. More recent legislation concerns cremation and crematoria. Burial Acts regulate matters of burial, some of which are clearly related to particular occasions and problems in the past and are not likely to be of current interest. Under the Act of 1880, for instance, it is a misdemeanor to obstruct a burial or burial service or to deliver an address which is not part of the religious service permitted by the act. Obviously, in unusual political circumstances this would have relevance, but for normal purposes we can take the Burial Acts to be referring to the where and the how of burial.

The law does not require burial in any particular place; burial in private ground is allowable if it does not amount to a nuisance or if it does not infringe any statutory prohibition against burial in any particular place. Every parishioner and inhabitant of a parish and every person dying in the parish has a common law right to burial in the parish churchyard or burial-ground, but not to burial in the church or in any particular part of the burial-ground. The right to burial carries with it no right to have a monument erected nor to a vault. The Church Commissioners have the power to fix tables of burial fees and these tables must be registered in the diocesan registry. No one can by will or in any other way legally dispose of his body after death, but he may direct the donation of certain organs and the anatomical examination of his body.

All burials must be carried out in a decent and orderly way, whether this is with or without a religious service. According to Church law a minister of the Church of England has a duty to perform the burial service over the body of any person not excluded from Christian burial. The burial of a person who had committed suicide used to be carried out without Christian rites, but this practice has now generally changed.

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