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Types of Graves in the Cemetery PDF Print E-mail
Aug 01, 2001 at 12:00 AM

Several names for different types of grave were used in the nineteenth century, some of which overlapped or were interchangeable.

The general term for a grave belonging to the owners of the cemetery, in which no private burial rights existed. Common graves were filled over the course of a few days with the bodies of unrelated people who died during that period and who could afford nothing better. No headstone was erected, so the occupants were uncommemorated. (See the LOCK-UP GRAVE and PUBLIC GRAVE sections below.)

A pauper was a penniless person buried by the Board of Guardians (i.e., at public expense). Any common grave would probably contain some paupers as well as some people whose families had managed to pay for the burial, so there is really no such thing as a 'pauper's grave', and the term is never used officially.

(probably the same thing as 'OPEN GRAVE') The cheapest category of common grave; there were three prices, for stillborn babies, for children under 7 years of age, and for persons over 7. It appears that these graves were not completely filled in after each burial. Instead, a wooden 'door' was locked in place on to some kind of framework around the grave. When the grave was full the contraption was removed so that the grave looked like any other. The last mention of 'lock-up' graves in the cemetery minutes is in 1891. During the nineteenth century 5s was paid to bury a person over 7 years old in a lock-up grave. A 1921 price list quotes this for what it calls simply 'common graves'.

Another type of common grave. The grave was filled up completely after each interment, so that the deepest burial involved most work and cost the largest amount (14s during the nineteenth century). This type was still known as a 'public grave' in 1921.

The third type of common grave, this differed from the other two by having a headstone, and seems to have been a local invention, avoiding the 'shame' of an uncommemorated burial. Each stone served two graves (one to the east, one to the west of it), and the inscription gave the names, ages and dates of death of the unrelated dead in the graves. There were also kerbs round the grave. We do not know whether the method of burial was that of the 'lock-up' or of the 'public' grave, but the simple pricing suggests the former. The inscription grave originally cost £1 1s for adults, half-price for children, so that it soon acquired the unofficial nickname 'guinea grave'. In 1921 a 'guinea grave' cost £2.

A plot of ground purchased by an person who then had the burial rights to the grave dug in it, confirmed by a parchment certificate or 'grave paper', a duplicate of which was kept by the Burial Grounds Committee. Separate fees would be paid for the plot, for the making of the grave (sometimes as a brick-lined vault), for each burial in it, and for the right to erect a headstone or other monument. Apparently there was no time limit on the right of the owner or his family to the grave; they could expect to lie there for all time. Some graves were well cared for, usually by the relatives of those buried in them. Other families paid a sum of £10 or so to ensure that the cemetery authority would tend the grave for evermore; this was called a 'perpetuity', but these agreements are now sadly no longer honoured.

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