Grim (Reaper) up north

Charles 3 Comments

Posted by Richard Rawlinson

Manchester’s Southern Cemetery is the inspiration for Cemetery Gates by cheery northern pop combo The Smiths. It’s also the resting place of Man U manager Sir Matt Busby, Salford artist LS Lowry and Tony Wilson, founder of the Hacienda nightclub and Factory Records, which represented 1980s bands such as Joy Division.
The largest municipal cemetery in the UK, it opened in 1879 with four mortuary chapels for Anglicans, Nonconformists, Catholics and Jews. Only one is currently used for funeral services, the others remaining semi-derelict due to the decline in burials.

There are no plans to re-open them as deconsecrated chapels for secular funerals, even to alleviate the fast-turnaround cycle of Manchester Crematorium, opened in 1892 immediately adjacent to the cemetery. Even the oldest crematoria offer as legal mandatories lavatories and disabled access as well as waiting rooms, sound systems and the rest. It’s often too costly to bring back unused cemetery chapels to modern working standards.

Manchester Crematorium is a response to concerns about the living conditions of industrial workers in late-19th century Manchester. Its founders argued that acres of cemetery could be better used for housing to relieve overcrowding. Their campaign motto was ‘Save the Land for the Living’.

However much some of us like the idea of burial (woodland, grave recycling etc) and different venues for services, are we flogging a dead horse? Is the age of the multiplex crematorium/resomatorium here to stay, offering several chapels sharing the same disposal factories underneath? Is there any future for graves when space-efficient memorial walls allow for envelope-sized plaques ordered on a 10-year lease?

 Footnote: Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, who hanged himself aged 23 in 1980, is buried in Macclesfield.


  1. Charles

    Not your jolliest post RR, but an interesting and thought-provoking one, thanks!
    I don’t know about Scotland or NI, but I gather that in Wales things are not so dire with regard to cemetery spaces. Only a matter of time, perhaps.

    Why, by the way, do we insist on burying bodies so deep?

  2. Charles

    Yes, GM, the double decker option with one deep and one shallow would help alleviate space shortages. What about vertical graves? A step too far?

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