Crispy vs Wormy - Dead British People

I heard a radio news item this morning about the fact that Britain is running out of cemetery space and most British people are getting cremated because of the huge cost of casket, in ground burial. It discussing all this it was mentioned that burial space in Britain is leased for a specific period of time and the funeral expenses have to cover this, which is one of the reasons why getting buried there is so expensive.

Huh? I thought I must have mis-heard or mis-understood this. Is the right to occupy a burial plot in Britain in perpetuity or not?

According to this site, you heard right.

Good Lord! :o Well, at least the backhoe leasing companies will be busy. Man… I though Britan was a “civilised” country.

There’s some more info in this duplicate thread


The same thing happens in the small village in which I live in Switzerland. My grandfather, who died as a young man (more than 50 years ago) was moved out of his own grave and put in the common grave sometime after 1990.

How do they combat the disease risk? Do they dig up the stiffs wearing masks and gloves? What if the person died of an airborne disease that could still spread?

I accidently posted two threads re this topics. These folks had some good info in the one Manhattan had to close so I am posting their replies as well.


Registered: Jun 1999
Posts: 327
Well, here’s a pretty interesting related article.
related article
looks like Britain is only considering re-introducing the idea of reusing burial sites, although this article does say that graves can no longer be dedicated to one person in perpetuity. 100 years is the current max for a grave to belong to one person. It doesn’t address what happens once that time limit is up, though. Anyone know?



Registered: Mar 2001
Posts: 9
In the old days in Europe (presumably including the British Isles) when they ran out of grave space in a cemetary they would evict the prior tenant by digging him or her up and storing the bones in a “charnal house”, also known by more elegant names, which was basically a storehouse for bones. Underneath Paris, for instance, are catacombs where the bones of the city dead have been stored for centuries. In some areas these are all neatly arranged, in others randomly piled. Sometimes the bones were stored aboveground, leading to the term “boneyard”. There is at least one church in Europe that used the bones of former parishoners as decoration - I don’t know if it is still used for worship or not but I’ve seen it featured on TV shows like Ripley’s Belive It or Not . Anyhow, once the grave was cleaned out you put the new person in until you ran out of space again and dug that person’s bones up. I guess the idea behind the 100 year limit on “residency” is the assumption (or hope) that by the time a century has gone by there aren’t any relatives around with enough personal attachment to the deceased to pitch a fit when you dig up their remains.

The crunch came to Berlin during the Cold War, when they had the Wall. I recall lots of people said they would have to stop using the few cemetary plots within the city and ship bodies to the other sectors. This might have been just over-excited press coverage, however.

I believe they do the same thing there. So many dead bodies and not enough space. Maybe not all cemeteries there but I think Calvalry does it and probably most others
Brother Rat

In Australia we’ve got a lot of room (although not where it counts) and I believe that you buy a plot for something like 50 or 75 years and after that time they ask your decendents if they want to renew your lease and if not then you’re cremated. Thats what I understand, anyway. It was explainted to me last year at my grandmothers wake by a relative who was almost as drunk as I…

The church in Hallstatt ,Austria is decorated with bones from former parishoners and it is quite a tourist attraction because the village is one of the most scenic areas of the Austrian Lake District (The Salzkammergut).I have also visited a church in Southern Poland which also has bones in the main church and also in the crypt.In this case the bones had been collected by the parish priest from bodies left lying around during (I think) the thirty years war.

perpetual care type graveyards are relatively modern - they are a product of the Victorian era, where worrying about death and disease was the height of fashion. The Victorians came up with this park like setting, where the whole familiy could go and have a picnic with whoever didn’t quite survive consumption. Before that, graveyards were pretty gruesome places. think of Shakespeare - they come across his skull by chance, no big deal - but he obviously could not have been dead all that long.

In New Orleans, I think it is still the custom to be “buried” in a mausoleum, and after so many years, they move your bones to a different site. Saves a lot of valuable, above the water table, space.

I think I read/heard some time ago that all bodies must be put in mausoleums in New Orleans, specifically because of the water table. Wouldn’t do to have Great-Aunty Martha’s old bones floating down the street, now would it? :wink:

According to FHM magazine (February 2001) in some parts of Spain, burial space is so limited that bodies have to be dug up and moved after only 8 years…

The particular questions raised by the OP are answered in detail and at length in a new report by the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Select Committee of the House of Commons. The full text of the report can be found at

The issues specifically surrounding the reuse of graves are discussed at paragraphs 113-127. The key recommendation appears to be

Interesting and thought-provoking.

It seems they WILL re-use grave sites, so the question I have is this: Will they leave the headstone/marker where it was, or does that have to go, too?

Related to the above question: I have seen pictures from Europe of graveyards going back centuries, where it appears the gravestones are very, very close together —both side to side AND front to back. It LOOKS like the plot was reused but the older stones were left where they were. Is this the case? Is this done in laces in “the old country”?

Lastly, under existing or the proposed new practices and laws, is it OK to never be burned (i.e. be cremated right after death) but still have a marker or other headstone type thing set up in a graveyard/“memorial garden”?

I believe it was Dilbert who said “I want a really big gravestone so I can say I’ve left at least one impression on the earth.”

Correction: Under “Lastly”, I meant “never to be buried”, not “never to be burned”…

One other thing… in the UK, Australia, Germany, etc., do they do all the stuff like here in the US with concrete grave liners, hermatically sealed coffins, etc. that appear to be aimed at grave use in perpetuity?

The stone used for headstones in UK cemetries tends to disintegrate anyway in the British weather. The epitaphs on older gravestones are therefore often illegible. This may seem a bit pointless, but that’s the way it is. The assumption is probably that such headstones will be removed prior to the reuse of the plots.

Yes. Cemetries often have memorials for those who have been cremated or places where urns can be placed. However, headstones similar to those for burials would be just as expensive as a burial because you would still have to lease the land. This rather undermines what most people see as the main advantage of cremation, which is its cheapness relative to burial.

I think only very rarely in the UK. Burials are expensive enough as it is.

How old were you thinking of? There’s a cemetery I walk past on the way to work which has many (perfectly legible) inscriptions from the 1830s and 1840s.
I doubt erosion is peculiar to the British climate…

Aside: I’ll leave my body to a medical school, cheap, easy and no land required;)

I remember reading that old grave markers were used as paving stones (sidewalks) someplace(s) in GB.

This was done even in antiquity - bones were dug up after some period of time and set into caves in several parts of the world, isn’t that so? I was horrified at the time I read about this but it makes more sense as I get older.