Churchyard and cemetery: tradition and modernity in rural North Yorkshire

Research output: Book/ReportBook


In common understandings of burial history, the nineteenth-century cemetery is taken as a symbol of modernity, in its professional organization of burial space, and relocation of interment from the centre of the community to its periphery. Indeed, cemeteries are generally regarded as secularizing agencies that undermined the Church of England’s near-monopoly of burial provision. The replacement of the churchyard with the cemetery is regarded as a central development in the ‘modernisation’ of attitudes towards mortality.

In actuality there are many histories of burial. In North Yorkshire, there was no linear progression from churchyard to cemetery. Rather, the use of churchyards was often prolonged by extensions in which burial practices began to mirror those in the cemetery. In the cemetery, Church control was maintained through the act of consecration. During the course of the twentieth century, new legislation framed the possibility that burial space could be appropriated by larger and more centralized local government agencies. However, in rural North Riding, the sheer complexity of burial law created an effective deterrent: burial space remained, for the most part, under the control of local communities. Cremation did not necessarily bring change: many villages still use their Anglo Saxon churchyard.

Social historians will find much to consider in this text, which uses the social history of churchyards and cemeteries to question our understanding of death in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Local historians will be intrigued by the fact that their local cemetery or churchyard has a more troubled history than might be supposed.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationManchester
PublisherManchester University Press
Number of pages320
ISBN (Print)978-0-7190-8920-6
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • cemetery
  • churchyard
  • burial

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