HC Deb 07 March 1854 vol 131 cc450-3

said, be would' beg to move that an Address be presented to Her Majesty for a Return of the Notices for Discontinuance of Burials within the Metropolis, issued by the Secretary of State, in compliance with the provisions of the Act 15 & 16 Vict. c. 85. He wished particularly to call the attention of Her Majesty's Government to this subject, in consequence of complaints that were made of the distress occasioned by the sudden closing of so many burial-grounds without sufficient provision of other places of interment. He disclaimed any intention to blame the noble Lord at the head of the Home Department for the course he had taken under the threatened approach of cholera, or to find fault with him for the defect in the law in not making it compulsory upon parishes, where old burial-grounds were closed, to provide new ones. He was aware the making proper provision was beset with difficulties. Some parishes in the east of the metropolis were in such a state of pauperism that they were unable to pay a rate for the purpose of raising the necessary funds; and as the local want would soon become a national necessity, further legislation was unavoidable. He was told there would be difficulty in finding funds for the purpose. He had never heard of any difficulty in providing parks for healthful recreation, and he looked upon this requirement as no less imperative. He might be told it was better to leave these matters to parochial arrangement, as there was always great jealousy of any Government interference, or to private enterprise. He dissented from any such feeling of jealousy; and as to private enterprise, he would point to the millions lost in railways from not being placed under the direction of the Government, and to the heavy tax levied upon the public for crossing the private bridges over the Thames, as proofs of how much the people lost by the want of Government interference. In his opinion, if there was one subject more than another which ought not to be left to private enterprise, it was the construction of extramural cemeteries for the metropolis. He served last Session on a Committee before which a Bill was brought, for the formation of a very large r cemetery at Willesden. The scheme came to them recommended by the proprietors of the, soil, by 300 out of 350 ratepayers of the parish, with the sanction of the noble Lord at the head of the Home Department, and with the sanction, if not the approval, of the right rev. Prelate the Bishop of London. When the Bill, however, reached t another place, the Bishop of London, with other Bishops, went down to the House to throw it out; it only passed a second reading by a majority of one; it went before a !I Committee, and by that Committee was finally rejected. He saw it recently stated, in the Illustrated London News, that the noble Lord the Secretary of State had intimated to the parish of Marylebone, through the hon. Member for that borough (Sir B. Hall), that he would not give his sanction to the Willesden Cemetery if it were again proposed. It was not for him to find out the reasons why the Bishop of London, the noble Lord, and the proprietors of the soil had all so suddenly changed their minds; but he mentioned this case for the purpose of showing the time had arrived when they must not allow matters to be carried out by private enterprise, and when it was the duty of the Government to see, to a certain extent, that proper provision for interments was made. He I might be told that a cemetery was actually, or about to be, provided at Woking, but, he contended, at such a distance it could not meet the wants of the metropolis. Another point worthy the consideration of the Government was, the providing a place for the burial of soldiers, which was much required by the closing of the ground of St. John's, Westminster. The only other subject on which he would touch was, the habitual desecration of the burial-grounds, which were closed. He took only casual instances, without having instituted any inquiries, but they were sufficient, in his opinion, to justify his calling the attention of the Government to them, that such cases might not in future occur. On the burial-ground of St. James's, baths and wash-houses had been erected. At Kensington, the vestry erected a vestry-hall on the site of the burial-ground, and in making foundations cast the dead bodies from the part required to the other part of the ground. He considered the whole subject of such deep importance that he felt no apology was needed for bringing it before the attention of the House.


said, he had no objection to the production of the return which the hon. Gentleman had moved for, and he was quite aware the execution of the law must be attended with very considerable inconvenience both to parishes and to private individuals. But the ground on which the Act was passed, and the ground on which he had felt it his duty to carry it into operation, was, that the public health, which seemed endangered by the state of these burial-grounds, required those sacrifices at the hands of parishes and individuals. With regard to the graveyards which had been closed, the greater part of the parishes to which they belonged had actually provided for themselves other places of interment, and he did not, therefore, think it would be necessary to have any further legislation. At the same time, if it should appear necessary that a compulsory clause to force parishes to provide proper burial-places should be introduced, he should be ready to consider such a case when it arose. With regard to the proposed cemetery at Willesden, he certainly did give his assent to it. The Bill passed that House, and was thrown out in the House of Lords; but it was thrown out because, on investigation, it appeared that the soil was not suitable for the purpose, and the place was likely to be surrounded by buildings, nearer to the intended cemetery than the Act of Parliament would permit. When that circumstance was brought to his knowledge, he certainly did say, as far as he was concerned, he did not think it would be convenient that a cemetery should be there established. If a cemetery was required in ' that direction, he did think it should be further from the metropolis, and in better soil. With regard to the Woking Cemetery, he did not agree with the hon. And gallant Member that that cemetery would not afford important provision for the burials of the metropolis, for, he believed, on the contrary, by arrangements with the railways, burials would there take place without considerable inconvenience to the per. sons who accompanied the funerals. It was quite true, as the hon. and gallant Member stated, that great care should be taken, when any burial-ground was no longer used for interments, that it should not be applied to other purposes. But he had a communication, not long since, with the Bishop of London, and the Bishop assured him that in all such cases, in his diocese, proper care was taken for the removal of the bodies with all that decency which the feelings of the public and the feelings of individuals demanded. He had, however, in preparation a Bill which, if he could arrange it, he should propose to Parliament, to regulate what should be done with closed graveyards.


said, that, as one of the trustees of the Woking Cemetery Company, he could assure the hon. and gallant Member (Colonel Harcourt) that by arrangements with the South-Western Railway Company every facility would be given to parties attending funerals there.


said, he was glad that the hon. and gallant Gentleman had moved for, and his noble Friend (Viscount Palmerston) agreed to, the return; and if the hon. and gallant Gentleman had moved for further returns, it could have been shown that in several parishes the orders of the Home Secretary for closing graveyards and providing others had been obeyed with alacrity, and that in the conduct of their local affairs the parishes would be always ready to do what was necessary.


said, he thought that the return moved for should have embraced a wider area round the metropolis. In the parish of Staines, the churchyard, and the graveyard attached to a dissenting chapel had both been closed, and as there was no easy access to any cemetery, the parish was left without any place for the burial of the dead. Time should be given to parishes to get other burial-grounds before their own were closed, and the peremptory and positive orders of the Home Secretary had often led to great inconvenience.


said, he wished to state that in Manchester there were burial-grounds which had cost nearly 20,000l., which were not nearly occupied to their full amount, and he desired to know if those grounds were to be closed without any compensation being made to the proprietors?

Motion agreed to. Return ordered.