Cremation Act 1902

Last updated
Cremation Act 1902
Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom (HM Government).svg
Long title An Act for the regulation of the burning of Human Remains, and to enable Burial Authorities to establish Crematoria.
Citation 2 Edw. 7 c. 8
Territorial extentEngland, Scotland and Wales
Royal assent 22 July 1902
Commencement 1 April 1903

The Cremation Act 1902 (2 Edw 7 c. 8) is an Act of Parliament of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. The major purpose of the Act was to allow burial authorities to establish crematoria. Later revisions of the Act outlawed open air cremations using funeral pyres, although in 2010 the Court of Appeal ruled this practice to be legal under certain circumstances. [1]



In 1883, eccentric Welshman Dr William Price fathered a child with his housekeeper nearly sixty years his junior. By the time his son – named Iesu Grist (Jesus Christ) – was born to him in his eighties, Price had taken to wearing a scarlet waistcoat and fox-skin headpiece. He often paraded through the town of Llantrisant carrying a blazing torch and a druid's crescent moon.

However, when his son died – aged five months, the heartbroken Price took the boyʼs body to a hilltop above Llantrisant on a Sunday. [2] There in full view of the nearby chapel he attempted to cremate the body in paraffin. A furious crowd of locals dragged the body from the flames and nearly killed Price. Later, an autopsy was performed on Iesu's body by a local doctor who concluded that the child had died of natural causes and had not been murdered. Price was therefore not charged with infanticide but was instead tried in a Cardiff courtroom for performing cremation rather than a burial which the police believed to be illegal.[ citation needed ]

Price argued that while the law did not state that cremation was legal, it also did not state that it was illegal. The judge, Justice Stephen, agreed. Price was freed and returned to Llantrisant to find a crowd of supporters cheering for his victory. On 14 March, he was finally able to give his son a cremation involving his own personal druidic prayers. In 1885, the first official cremation took place at Woking, and ten cremations are recorded as being performed in the following year. In 1892 a crematorium opened in Manchester followed by one in Glasgow in 1895 and one in Liverpool in 1896. The case's legal precedent together with the activities of the newly founded Cremation Society of Great Britain led to the Cremation Act of 1902.[ citation needed ]


The Act deemed that any power to provide for and maintain burial grounds or cemeteries was to be considered to encompass crematoria. No crematorium built could be closer than fifty yards to any public highway, or in the consecrated area of a burial ground. It could not be built within two hundred yards of any dwelling house without the written consent of the owner, lessee and occupier, and the act was not to be interpreted to "authorise the burial authority or any person to create or permit a nuisance".

The Secretary of State was to create regulations for the maintenance and inspection of crematoria, the circumstances in which they could be used, and the creation of a register of such burnings. All statutory provisions relating to the use of burial registers as evidence were to apply to these registers.

Any breach of these regulations, or burning of human remains outside of the provisions of the Act, would be liable, on summary conviction, to a penalty of up to fifty pounds. Any person found guilty of wilfully making any false representations in order to procure the burning of human remains would be liable to imprisonment with or without hard labour for up to two years; and any person found guilty of attempting to conceal an offence by attempting to procure the burning of human remains would be liable to imprisonment with or without hard labour for up to five years.

The incumbent of a parish was not under any obligation to perform a funeral service for those dying in his parish who were to be cremated; but if he refused to do so, any cleric of the Established Church who was not otherwise disabled from doing so could perform the service at the request of the executor, the persons in charge of the cremation, or the burial authority, with permission from the bishop.

The Act applied to England and Wales, and Scotland, but not to Ireland. It came into effect on 1 April 1903. The Act has since been heavily amended, but remains in force.

Open air pyres

Open air funeral pyres were made illegal in Britain by the 1930 issue of the Cremation Act. Prior to this but after the 1902 Act, open air cremations had occurred in limited numbers, including several Hindu and Sikh soldiers cremated in Brighton, having died after fighting for the British Empire in World War I. The last open air pyre was believed to have occurred in 1934, when the British Government gave special permission to Nepal's ambassador to cremate his wife outdoors in Surrey. [3] [4] [5] [6] [7]

In 2006, Davender Ghai, a British citizen and devout Hindu who had arrived from Kenya in 1958, launched a judicial review of the Act after Newcastle-upon-Tyne City Council refused him a permit to conduct open air cremations in Britain in accordance with Hindu religious practices, which require the burning of the body in a sacramental fire in order to secure the future reincarnation of the soul. [3] [4] [5] [6] [7]

Ghai, through his multi-faith Newcastle based charity the Anglo-Asian Friendship Society, had been campaigning for open air funerals for people of any faith, arguing there was significant demand from the increasingly aging British Hindu and Sikh communities who, due to the Act, often flew bodies of their relatives abroad for cremation. In July 2006, believing the law did not prohibit pyres, Ghai organised the open air cremation of Rajpal Mehat, an Indian-born Sikh illegal immigrant who was found drowned in a London canal. Subsequent delays in identification meant the body was not fit to be repatriated, and Mehat's relatives asked Ghai to organise the ceremony in accordance with their beliefs. The ceremony, held in a field in Northumberland, was Britain's first open air cremation since 1934. Informed prior to the ceremony, local police initially allowed it to take place, but then said it had been illegal. The Crown Prosecution Service agreed, but ruled a prosecution would not be in the public interest. Shortly afterwards, Ghai launched his judicial review to seek clarification of the law and the council's refusal under the Act. [3] [4] [5] [6] [7]

In the review, Ghai argued simultaneously that the Act did not outlaw open air pyres if done under the principles of the Act, i.e. in a properly authorised and private site and without causing public offence or nuisance, and that if it did, this was an infringement of the Human Rights Act 1998, under Articles 8 and 9, specifying citizen's rights to religious freedom and a private and family life, respectively. The British Government, through the Department for Constitutional Affairs (which in 2007 became the Ministry of Justice), backed the council's decision and took an opposition stance during the review, on the basis that open air cremations would offend public decency; that the articles of the human rights were properly limited by the Act due to the wider societal implications of pyres; and latterly, due to environmental concerns arising from the practice of burning materials such as mercury fillings. [3] [4] [5] [6] [7]

In seeking permission for his court challenge in 2007, the High Court ruled that "the burning of dead bodies in the open air is not necessarily unlawful" and allowed Ghai to proceed. In February 2010, the Court of Appeal ruled that, as long as open air pyres took place within a structure of some sort, that the practice would be legal under the existing Act, although there were outstanding planning and environmental regulatory issues to be settled before pyres would actually be possible. [3] [4] [5] [6] [7]

See also

Related Research Articles

Funeral Ceremony for a person who has died

A funeral is a ceremony connected with the final disposition of a corpse, such as a burial or cremation, with the attendant observances. Funerary customs comprise the complex of beliefs and practices used by a culture to remember and respect the dead, from interment, to various monuments, prayers, and rituals undertaken in their honor. Customs vary between cultures and religious groups. Common secular motivations for funerals include mourning the deceased, celebrating their life, and offering support and sympathy to the bereaved; additionally, funerals may have religious aspects that are intended to help the soul of the deceased reach the afterlife, resurrection or reincarnation.

Golders Green Crematorium

Golders Green Crematorium and Mausoleum was the first crematorium to be opened in London, and one of the oldest crematoria in Britain. The land for the crematorium was purchased in 1900, costing £6,000, and the crematorium was opened in 1902 by Sir Henry Thompson.

Cremation reduction of a dead body by burning

Cremation is a method of final disposition of a dead body through burning (combustion).


A pyre, also known as a funeral pyre, is a structure, usually made of wood, for burning a body as part of a funeral rite or execution. As a form of cremation, a body is placed upon or under the pyre, which is then set on fire.

William Price (physician) 19th-century Welsh physician

William Price was a Welsh doctor known for his support of Welsh nationalism, Chartism and his involvement with the Neo-Druidic religious movement. He has been recognized as one of the most significant figures of 19th-century Wales, and one of the most unusual in Victorian Britain.

Disposal of human corpses, also called final disposition, is the practice and process of dealing with the remains of a deceased human being. Disposal methods may need to account for the fact that soft tissue will decompose relatively rapidly, while the skeleton will remain intact for thousands of years under certain conditions.

Antyesti Funeral rites for the dead in Hinduism

Antyesti literally means "last sacrifice", and refers to the funeral rites for the dead in Hinduism, which usually involve cremation of the body. This rite of passage is the last samskara in a series of traditional life cycle samskaras that start from conception in Hindu tradition. It is also referred to as Antima Sanskar, Antya-kriya, Anvarohanyya, or as Vahni Sanskara.

Cremation in the Christian World

Cremation is a method used to dispose of the deceased in the Christian world despite historical opposition to the practice.

Death in Singapore Regulations surrounding death and treatment of the body after death

Deaths in Singapore offset the population increase from live births. In 2007, 17,140 people in Singapore died from various causes. The death rate was 4.5 deaths per 1,000 of the population. There are strict regulations surrounding death and treatment of the body after death.

Nigambodh Ghat is located on the banks of the Yamuna river coast in New Delhi, situated on the Ring Road, Delhi at the back of the historic Red Fort. It consists of a series of bathing and ceremonial stepped piers leading to the waters of the river. It is most known for being the oldest burning ghat in Delhi for performing Antyesti, Hindu funeral rites and also one of its busiest with 50–60 pyres burning every day. It also has an electric crematorium built in the 1950s and a CNG-run crematorium was added by the Municipal corporation with manages the cremation facilities in 2006.

Crematorium machine or building in which cremation takes place

A crematorium or crematory is a venue for the cremation of the dead.

Eastern Suburbs Memorial Park

Eastern Suburbs Memorial Park, formerly known as Eastern Suburbs Crematorium and Botany General Cemetery, is a cemetery and crematorium at Matraville, New South Wales, in the eastern suburbs district of Sydney, Australia. Land was dedicated as a cemetery site in 1888, with the first interment recorded on 21 August 1893. Since then, more than 65,000 people have been buried there. The memorial park incorporates Botany Cemetery, Eastern Suburbs Crematorium and Pioneer Park.

A funeral procession is a procession, usually in motor vehicles or by foot, from a funeral home or place of worship to the cemetery or crematorium. In earlier times the deceased was typically carried by male family members on a bier or in a coffin to the final resting place. This practice has shifted over time toward transporting the deceased in a hearse, while family and friends follow in their vehicles. The transition from the procession by foot to procession by car can be attributed to two main factors; the switch to burying or cremating the body at locations far from the funeral site and mainly the introduction of motorized vehicles and public transportation making processions by foot through the street no longer practical.

Blackley Cemetery

Blackley Cemetery is a large, municipal cemetery situated within the northern suburbs of the city of Manchester, and is owned, operated and maintained by Manchester City Council. The cemetery and crematorium complex is located on Victoria Avenue in the district of Blackley. It was opened in 1953 on land that was previously a golf course.

Shmashana Hindu cremation ground

A 'shmashāna is a Hindu crematory ground, where dead bodies are brought to be burnt on a pyre. It is usually located near a river or body of water on the outskirts of village or town; as they are usually located near river ghats they are also called smashan ghat.

Birmingham Crematorium

Birmingham Crematorium is a Protestant crematorium in the Perry Barr district of Birmingham, England, designed by Frank Osborne and opened in 1903. A columbarium was added in 1928. The crematorium is now owned and operated by Dignity plc.

Thai royal funeral

Thai royal funerals are elaborate events, organised as royal ceremonies akin to state funerals. They are held for deceased members of the Royal Family, and consist of numerous rituals which typically span several months to over a year. Featuring a mixture of Buddhist and animist beliefs, as well as Hindu symbolism, these rituals include the initial rites that take place after death, a lengthy period of lying-in-state, during which Buddhist ceremonies take place, and a final cremation ceremony. For the highest-ranking royalty, the cremation ceremonies are grand public spectacles, featuring the pageantry of large funeral processions and ornate purpose-built funeral pyres or temporary crematoria known as merumat or men. The practices date to at least the 17th century, during the time of the Ayutthaya Kingdom. Today, the cremation ceremonies are held in the royal field of Sanam Luang in the historic centre of Bangkok.

Cremation in Japan was originally practiced by monks seeking to emulate the cremation of the Buddha. Virtually all deceased are now cremated in Japan – as of 2012, it had the highest cremation rate in the world of over 99.9%. The Meiji government attempted to ban the practice in the 19th century, but the ban was only in effect for less than two years.

Cremation Society of Great Britain

The Cremation Society of Great Britain was founded in 1874 to promote the use of cremation as an alternative means of dealing with the bodies of the dead instead of burial which until then was the only option. Today the Society is a registered charity and is not conducted for profit.



  1. "Regina (Ghai) v Newcastle City Council [2010] EWCA Civ 59, [2011] QB 591".
  2. "Dr William Price (Llantrisant) Papers". Archifau Cymru Archives Wales. Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 18 January 2014.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Butt, Riazat (5 September 2008). "Hindu seeks court ruling on open-air cremations". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 19 January 2010.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Kleiderman, Alex (23 March 2009). "Can Britain accept funeral pyres?". BBC News . Retrieved 18 January 2010.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 Taylor, Jerome (25 March 2009). "The Big Question: Why do Hindus want open-air cremation, and should it be allowed?". The Independent. London. Retrieved 18 January 2010.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 Pavia, Will (18 January 2010). "British Hindu Davender Ghai takes funeral pyre battle to Appeal Court". The Times. London. Retrieved 18 January 2010.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 "Hindu wins Northumberland funeral pyre battle". BBC News. 10 February 2010. Retrieved 10 February 2010.


  • The Public General Acts Passed in the Second Year of the Reign of His Majesty King Edward the Seventh. London: printed for His Majesty's Stationery Office. 1902.
  • Chronological table of the statutes; HMSO, London. 1993.