26 March 1885: Britain’s first legal cremation

On this day in 1885, Janet Pickersgill became the first person to be officially cremated in Britain, at Woking Crematorium in Surrey.

Cremating the dead is nothing particularly new. It's been going on since the Stone Age. But in Britain, we've not been too keen on it since we became a nation of God-fearing Christians. Burning was something reserved for heretics. Often, we didn't even wait until they were dead.

But after a few hundred years of sticking the dead in the ground, along came the Victorians, with their (often entirely reasonable) fear of germs, dirt and disease. Sir Henry Thompson, physician to the Queen, was a champion of cremation, and in 1874 he formed the Cremation Society to push for the legalisation of the practice as a “necessary sanitation precaution against the propagation of disease”.

In 1878, the society bought a plot of land next to Brookwood Cemetery in Woking, Surrey – the famous 'Necropolis'. The following year they built a crematorium, but it would be a while before they could use it. In 1884, however, a case came before the courts that would pave the way for legal cremations.

Dr William Price, a rather eccentric Welsh doctor and druid, had attempted to cremate the body of his infant son (who he had named Iesu Grist – Welsh for Jesus Christ) on top of a pyre. He was arrested and tried. But the judge ruled that, while there was nothing to say what he had done was legal, nor was there anything to say it was illegal.

The Cremation Society took that to mean they could go ahead. And so, on this day in 1885, the poet Janet Pickersgill became the first person to be officially cremated in Britain.

That year, Woking carried out three cremations. In 1886, it carried out ten. Today, with cemeteries running out of space, and the cost of a cremation at around a third that of a burial, over 70% of all funerals in Britain involve cremation.

Recommended

How to cut your car’s fuel bill as the price of petrol hits a record high
Personal finance

How to cut your car’s fuel bill as the price of petrol hits a record high

The cost of filling the typical car’s 55-litre tank with petrol is now around £105. Here, Saloni Sardana looks at ways to keep your refuelling costs d…
5 Jul 2022
Saga’s figures are heading in the right direction – so should you buy?
Share tips

Saga’s figures are heading in the right direction – so should you buy?

Saga the over-50s travel and financial services specialist, has been struggling for years. But now, with the pandemic behind, it it is planning for fu…
5 Jul 2022
Director dealings w/e 1 July: what company insiders are buying and selling
Stocks and shares

Director dealings w/e 1 July: what company insiders are buying and selling

Directors’ share dealings can often give investors an insight into the sentiment of company insiders. Here are some of the biggest deals by company di…
5 Jul 2022
Is inflation about to drop as recession takes hold?
UK Economy

Is inflation about to drop as recession takes hold?

Central banks are raising interest rates in an attempt to curb soaring inflation. But will that push the economy into recession? John Stepek looks at …
5 Jul 2022

Most Popular

Ray Dalio’s shrewd $10bn bet on the collapse of European stocks
European stockmarkets

Ray Dalio’s shrewd $10bn bet on the collapse of European stocks

Ray Dalio’s Bridgewater hedge fund is putting its money on a collapse in European stocks. It’s likely to pay off, says Matthew Lynn.
3 Jul 2022
Persimmon yields 12.3%, but can you trust the company to deliver?
Share tips

Persimmon yields 12.3%, but can you trust the company to deliver?

With a dividend yield of 12.3%, Persimmon looks like a highly attractive prospect for income investors. But that sort of yield can also indicate compa…
1 Jul 2022
The income investor’s dilemma
Income investing

The income investor’s dilemma

Pay attention to dividend growth as well as initial yield when picking income trusts, says Max King.
4 Jul 2022