HC Deb 04 August 1842 vol 65 cc1030-3
Mr. Mackinnon

rose to move war leave to bring in a bill to promote the Health of Towns by preventing interments within their precincts. He said he should have been more pleased if the Government had taken the measure in hand, but as it had devolved on him as chairman of the committee, he would do his best in promoting the measure. In so doing, it was not his intention to enter into a long account of the practice of interments in former times, as this was well known by most Members of the House. He would only observe that the practice of burying in churches or in churchyards near the church had first began with the Emperor Constantine, and had not been in general practice until the eighth century. This custom had originated in superstition, the ignorance of those days making the mass believe that by being interred in or near the church they would escape purgatory; but he would ask was such a practice to continue at present? The hon. Gentleman said he would not enter into any details of the evidence adduced before the committee, or repeat any of the disgusting and offensive information brought before them by disinterested witnesses, who bore testimony of the abominations practised in the graveyards of great towns; all this would be known to the House and to the country by a perusal of the evidence given in the report on the improvement in the Health of Towns, but he could not pass over the evidence of the most distinguished practitioners in the country, of first men in medicine and surgery, who all agreed and received it as an axiom, that pestilential fevers and many other diseases arose at present from the interment of the dead in large towns, or within their precincts. He must also allude with unfeigned satisfaction to the conduct and evidence of the clergy. All that he had examined, from the highest prelate—from the Archbishop of Canterbury and Bishop of London to the humblest curate—all gave a willing evidence, and bore testimony against those evils, although the result might be some loss of fees to some of the parochial clergy. Having said this, he thought it advisable, without further preamble, to advert to the clauses of the bill that he was about to introduce, if leave were given by the House. But very considerable difficult arose in settling many points necessary to be arranged. He wished, in the first clause, to prohibit all interments under churches, or in large towns, and to remove them to say one mile or more from the town. Here a difficulty arose, in what the boundaries of the town should be defined, and he could suggest no other besides that of taking the boundaries to be co-extensive with the lighting and paving of each place. The next point was to allow all cemeteries in the vicinity of towns which had been formed within the last ten years, to continue to be used as at present, and not to come under the operation of this act. The next clause would be to allow the present graveyards in towns to be sown with grass, and not to be disturbed more than six inches below the surface for the next four years; after that time to be planted with trees, so that they might serve as walks for the inhabitants, as places where the descendants could witness the gravestones of their fathers—in short, as places which, by affording air and ventilation, might serve to promote the health and comfort of the people in the same proportion as they at present tended to disgust and to pollute, by noisome gases, the atmosphere in the neighbourhood. He must state that it was impossible to carry this act into operation, unless some authority or power in every parish was established to make arrangements. This authority might be vested in the incumbent vicar or resident Minister, and the two churchwardens, who should have power under this act to raise a fund to cover the necessary expenses that must be incurred; these expenses were as wallow, and could not be passed over; it would be necessary either to purchase land, or to make a contract with some cemetery for the use of the parish; another expense would be the removal of the paupers to their last home, and the last would be the remuneration for loss of fees or of salary to the clergy, and sextons, and others; all this expense, he thought, might be covered by a penny rate, levied in addition to a poor-rate, once in two or three years, for it must not be forgotten by hon. Members that in proportion as the population of a parish was great, in the same proportion the expenses would be higher; but then a much larger sum would be raised by a penny rate on the inhabitants of the parish. He would also permit an union of those perishes in like manner as we had unions of the parishes for the support of the poor. At these unions, the minister of each parish, and the churchwardens could vote, and the votes of the majority would decide any question; he would style these parish authorities committees of health for the parish. Besides these local authorities, he thought it advisable, that a central board of health should be formed in London, or a power given to the diocesan, for every parish or union to appeal to in cases of doubt or dispute; but he was inclined to prefer a board of health named by the Government, which board could also superintend the drainage and ventilation in large towns. In the Buildings Bill, which had been printed this Session, the want of such a board was apparent; it might regulate the drainage of houses about to be erected, and also prevent the injury done to the community by the want of ventilation, which arose when houses were built back to back in alleys, or in the poorer parts of the metropolis or large towns. He hoped that Great Britain the most civilized, the most wealthy, and most moral community in the universe, would not, in the nineteenth century, be the most backward in adopting that change for the benefit of the people that was loudly and would be still more fervently demanded by public opinion. A feeling existed in the community that could not be withstood, that the mass of the people were injured by the present mode of interment —that we ought to attend to their welfare. The hon. Gentleman concluded by expressing a hope that the churches should no longer be desecrated, the health of the living injured, or the remains of the dead disturbed, which must continue if the present system prevailed.

Mr. Cowper

seconded the motion. Although he did not, generally speaking, approve of bills being brought in at so late a period of the Session. He thought some good might be done by the printing of so important a bill as the present. The evils now existing loudly called for a remedy. In the close and confined churchyards of the metropolis pestilential gases were generated, which caused frequent destruction to the living while engaged in administering the last offices to the dead. On many grounds he left bound to support the present motion.

Sir R. Inglis

said, that in not opposing the whole bill, he did not pledge himself' to support it in all its details.

Leave given.

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