Once cremated, there are many choices of where ashes might be scattered or interred available to mourners in the UK today. For rural communities, the parish churchyard remains the most traditional option, and in previous posts (and in a recent publication), I’ve explored how these most traditional of Christian funerary environments have been adapted to incorporate new gardens of remembrance for the cremated dead, particularly over the last 50 years.
Often, this affords not only a different scale and orientation, but contrasting material forms and ornamentations to the traditional inhumation graves. Furthermore, cremation burial plots can occupy spaces last used in the Victorian era and often in close proximity to the church: reactivating and revitalising the sacred space.
Here is my example from Frodsham, Cheshire, posted earlier this year, while Minera, Wrexham, and West Kirby, Wirral, provide further examples.
A further feature of these cremation plots are instances where this switchback to reoccupying spaces beside paths close to the church is complemented by new cremation grave plots in churchyard extensions thus far removed from the church: cremation burials are bifurcated into two locations.
Upon an MA Archaeology of Death and Memory field trip prior to the lockdown, we visited a further fascinating example in rural Cheshire: Kingsley. Here, the mid-late 20th century graveyard extension is actually separated from the Victorian churchyard by the main road: it is a completely separate plot. So most graves are located across the road from the place of worship they are associated with. Indeed, the First World War memorial provides the symbolic entrance monument and framing of the consecrated space, not the church itself.
Yet cremation at Kingsley affords access to a curving path-side set of cremation ledgers, two rows deep, to the south of the church, and adjacent to Victorian graves in an otherwise cleared churchyard.
However, this arrangement is clearly deemed insufficient in some regard, and not for lack of space. This is because a new cremation plot has been set out in the churchyard extension, in proximity to the newest inhumation graves.
Therefore, it seems as if, at Kingsley, the spatial bifurcation of two cremation plots is regarded as preferable to the spatial bifurcation of recent cremation burials from inhumation graves.
In summary, this constitutes yet another example of how varied, localised choices are made regarding how the cremated dead are integrated into churchyard enviornments.