Personal view by Funeral Director, Michael Gill.
So, according to Emma Lewell-Buck MP, funerals are now so expensive people are being forced to bury their deceased in their own back garden, and I, as a Funeral Director of thirty years standing should, presumably, be preparing our company for more home burials than even we have seen before.
I’m afraid this all sounds familiar. Funeral Directors are a natural target in hard economic times, deriving our income, as we do, from bereavement and the passing of loved ones. I recall, some years ago, the City of Dublin looking at proposals to provide a state Funeral Service at not for profit levels of charging. The proposal foundered once the accountants had worked out they would be able to reduce the cost of local funerals by less than 10% over established funeral homes.
I suspect close scrutiny of funeral charges in South Shields would probably throw up the same result yet, presumably, Ms Lewell-Buck has some evidence to back up her statement. Maybe home burials are becoming more attractive in South Shields although I would guess it may not be because of economic factors. So what is the reason?
My personal feeling is that ease of visit, being near to family, is not the main sentiment as it is usually the interred who wish to be buried in this way, not the remaining relatives. It is, I think, a wish to remain in a place you loved in life, and to remain there undisturbed. Does it work?
It’s an almost unavoidable fact that, whatever one person buries, given time, another will dig up again. Even established cemeteries reclaim land from old, unattended burials, either by exhumation or ‘cover & cut’. So it may be that the feeling is that being buried on the family ‘estate’ is more under the control of the bereaved.
I looked after the exhumation & re-interment of Victor Hervey, 6th Marquess of Bristol, who is interred in the family vault of the private Church in the grounds of Ickworth House, Suffolk. Effectively a garden burial and fairly secure as the estate is now owned by the National Trust. So, if this is the security you are looking for in perpetuity, with an estate in Suffolk, you can achieve it. Should your estate amount to less than 250 acres however, last week’s exhumation would suggest garden burial isn’t going to do it.
As long as it is known deceased are present on the property someone will wish to remove them, either future owners or neighbours. Anonymity seems to be more effective. King Richard III remained undisturbed beneath a car park in Leicester for over five hundred years (Although it wasn’t always a car park – obviously) and Oliver Cromwell still lays undisturbed somewhere beneath what is now Marble Arch – both due to their graves being unrecorded, not an option available to garden burial.
There may be another advantage to garden burial that explains the renewed interest, ease of exhumation.
In my experience, the most common reason for arranging an exhumation is relocation of the family. Having spent their working lives away from their roots, relatives wish to return home and to bring their deceased relative with them.
Bury in your back garden and, when the family are ready to re-locate, the permission is issued by the Ministry of Justice in a matter of days.
Bury in a cemetery and it is possible the plot could be in ground Consecrated by the Church of England without the family knowing.
The view of the Church of England is that burial is in perpetuity, although, considering how many Church Yard projects I have advised upon, requiring burials to be moved, even those buried within the Church grounds are not immune to disturbance. The Faculty document is, however, in consequence, a nightmare permission to gain.
You also avoid two sets of Cemetery fees, cost of purchase of the plot and any maintenance fees. The Funeral Director still has to be paid but, as I mentioned at the start, our fees are what they are, Cemetery or Garden, they remain governed by the sheer amount of work involved.
So, is it a good idea to be buried in your own back garden? I think that can only be a purely personal sentiment and all the arguments in the world will not change someone’s mind if that is what they feel they should do.
The exhumation Rosie referred to earlier in this article was that of an elderly couple whose whole lifestyle appeared ‘different’ and may not be representative of the reasons behind most people’s interest in home burial. Their case does, however, illustrate some problems associated with the practice.
Their exhumation was an exercise in keeping a low profile whilst many curtains twitched. The burials had caused huge local debate and the exhumation just the same. The new home owner’s decision was taken with a heavy heart, knowing that their last wishes must be overturned in order to prevent the property falling into decay. I wouldn’t wish to place my descendants in such an awkward position, would you?
One final cautionary consideration, please think about those you don’t quite leave behind. The Environment Agency may take water table levels and other cogent factors into consideration before allowing garden burial, but they will not reject a request purely on the feelings of neighbours. How would you feel if your neighbour had their own private cemetery in their back garden?