The first legal cremation in Britain

Today, cremation is the most popular type of funeral. However, it is only relatively recently, just over a century ago, that cremation came back into favour. The revival of cremation can be attributed to several figures, including the eccentric and magnanimous Dr. William Price.

Before Christianity, cremation was practised widely, even early in human history, and often existed alongside the practice of burials. It was preferred by the Ancient Romans and Greeks. However, the Christianisation of the Western world would halt cremation, due to the Christian belief of physical resurrection of the body and the links cremation had with Paganism. As such, the practice died out for several hundred years until the Victorian era. The practice was championed by Sir Henry Thompson, physician to the Queen, as it was thought to be safer and healthier for the public than burials. The Cremation Society was founded in 1874, and they constructed a crematorium next to Brookwood Cemetery in 1879. However, they would not be allowed to use it until 1885, following a groundbreaking legal case in 1884 helmed by Dr. William Price.

Born in Wales, Dr. Price took part in the Newport Rising in favour of the Chartists’ ideas, though he would flee to France following its failure. Returning to Wales years later, he would become one of the most prominent figures in the Neo-Druidic movement, attempting to revive ancient Druidic religion and practices. Price was constantly at odds with Christianity and the English, championing Welsh nationalism and his belief in the only true god being nature. His conflicts would come to a head in 1884. Following the death of his son, Iesu, Price attempted to cremate his son on a hill near Llantrisant.

However, this resulted in his arrest and trial for practising cremation rather than burial. Price argued that while nothing said cremation was legal, nothing said that it was illegal either. Upon agreement of the judge, Price was released. With this legal precedent, the first official cremation was performed in 1885 with the cremation of the poet Janet Pickersgill. Price himself died in 1892 and was cremated in front of a crowd of 20,000, as per his wishes, in his uncle’s old chair atop a cord of wood and two tons of coal.

In 1902, the Cremation Act fully legalised cremation. Since the legalisation of cremation, it has become the preferred type of funeral in the UK and in many parts of the world. It is now much more popular than burial, and the religious stigma attached to it has all but dissipated in these modern times. Cremation memorials are growing in popularity and variety, and the practice of burial is slowly falling in popularity, particularly with the lack of burial space. With new methods coming into action for cremation, this method will likely continue to grow in popularity. If you have selected cremation for your own or a loved one’s funeral, we can offer you a selection of quality cremation memorials to help you pay a special tribute to them.

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