Although cremation is now the most common type of funeral in the UK, this definitely wasn’t always the case. Up until the 19th century, cremations were frowned upon by the Christian Church, which saw the practice as pagan and incompatible with the belief in the resurrection of the body.
Attitudes towards cremation started changing towards the end of the Victorian era. The high costs of Victorian funerals, the growing population of cities, the number of burials associated with them, rapidly filling cemeteries, and health and sanitation concerns all contributed to people viewing cremation as a more viable option.
In 1874, Queen Victoria’s physician and surgeon, Sir Henry Thompson, advocated for and founded the Cremation Society, leading to the UK’s first public crematorium being constructed in Woking, Surrey, in 1885. However, up until 1902, cremations were still the subject of much debate and public outcry, only being fully legalised with governing laws in 1902.
Leading up to the Great War, attitudes towards cremation remained largely unfavourable, but the huge number of deaths and the issue of what to do with the remains quickly led to more people accepting cremation. By 1968, the number of cremations exceeded the number of traditional burials for the first time. Today, about three in four people in the UK choose to be cremated.