HC Deb 11 June 1858 vol 150 cc1924-6

said, he rose to call the attention of the House to Dr. Letheby's Report of the Sanitary State of the Churches, especially those in the Metropolis. The hon. Gentleman said, that, according to this Report, there were at present somewhere about 1,600 corpses lying under the pews occupied by the congregations in the metropolitan churches. Although these corpses were enclosed in leaden coffins, yet, when after the lapse of time the metal gave way, there oozed out a dark liquid, which was a deadly poison, and the effluvium which escaped was a fertile cause of disease. Surely, when they were erecting statues to the memory of Dr. Jenner, they might do something to save the lives of living worshippers. He called the attention of the Home Secretary to this matter in the hope that he would see that some steps were taken to remedy this state of things, either by removal of the corpses or in some other way. Such matters as this were of vital importance to the comfort and happiness of the people, and now that the old landmarks of politics were broken down, he had every confidence that the Gentlemen now in office would apply themselves earn- estly to every question of social improvement brought under their notice.


said, this subject was no doubt one of considerable importance, and it had not escaped the attention of former Governments or the Legislature. The noble Lord the Member for Tiverton was first in the work of carrying out the measure passed by the Government of 1852 for putting a stop to burials in churches, and closing over-filled burial grounds, and had been most effectively followed up by the right bon. Gentleman who succeeded him at the Home Office. He was sure that his right hon. Friend (Mr. Walpole) would pursue the same course with a view to abate the evil, the gravity of which every day that passed more and more brought to their attention. A clause was inserted in the Act of last Session which for the first time gave power to the Secretary of State upon information to interfere for the protection of the public, when the vaults of a church or other burial-places were in a state that was injurious to the public health. It was not passed, however, until the end of August, and as yet there had been no opportunity of putting it extensively into operation; but the very fact to which the hon. Member had called attention, that Dr. Letheby and Mr. Grainger had been examining the vaults in the City of London, would show that Government had not lost sight of the subject. In some of the metropolitan churches measures had been taken for covering up the bodies completely in sand and charcoal; and that, he believed, was, under the circumstances, the best means that could be adopted. So far as the removal of the bodies were concerned, he could not imagine a greater evil, or anything more calculated to excite terror in the public mind, than to let it go forth that there was any intention to remove 15,000 bodies from the London churches to places in the neighbourhood of the metropolis. The subject, he could assure the hon. Gentlemen, would not be lost sight of by his right hon. Friend. The authorities at the Home Office were, in fact, daily attending to it; for it was their earnest desire to get rid of the evil at once and for ever in the churches both in London and in the country. He believed that every church in the metropolis had already been closed against any more burials, and that there was now hardly a burial-place in the metropolitan districts, except in the suburbs, but was shut. He trusted the House would be satisfied that the measures which had been adopted by Parliament were being fairly carried out, and that the Government would do all in their power to enforce them.