But what about the ashes?

A bag containing cremated remains inside a cardboard box

Recent disturbing incidents in the news continue to cause bereaved families across the UK worry and concern about whether they have been given the correct cremated remains of the person who has died.

We thought it would be helpful to have some clear information in the public domain about exactly what you should expect when you have arranged a cremation and asked for the cremated remains to be returned to you.

We are immensely grateful to Julie Dunk, CEO of the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management (ICCM) for providing us with accurate and up to date information, and to Natasha Bradshaw, Superintendent at Mortlake Crematorium in London, for supplying us with the photos used to illustrate this piece. 

Important points to note

Throughout the cremation process, correct identification is an essential element. Crematoria follow careful procedures to ensure that the identity of each coffin received for cremation is checked, and that all of the cremated remains from each individual cremation are kept separate, and collected and placed in one, clearly labelled container. 

The commonly used word for cremated remains is ‘ashes’, which implies a soft, light substance such as when paper is burned or the remnants of a wood fire. This is very misleading when used to describe the substance that you will receive after a person has been cremated.

  • Cremated remains are like a gritty sand, there may be tiny, fine, dust-like particles, but the bulk of the material will be more like gravel. The colour will range from off-white to dark grey.
  • Cremated remains don’t smell and are safe to touch. If you want to transfer them from one container to another, be aware that there will be dust; you may want to wear a mask to avoid breathing this dust in.
  • Cremated remains of an average adult will weigh around 2 – 4 kilos (4 – 8lbs). This is the equivalent of around 2 – 4 bags of sugar. People are  often surprised by the weight.
  • Cremated remains will be returned to you in a container. This may be a cardboard box, with the cremated remains in a plastic bag* within the box, or a plastic jar with a screw top, with the cremated remains either loose or in a bag inside. (*Some enlightened crematoria are now using paper bags rather than plastic.)
  • There will also be a certificate issued by the crematorium called a Certificate of Cremation. This confirms that the cremation took place and may be needed if you are going to scatter or bury the cremated remains at a crematorium or in a cemetery or churchyard. If you are going to keep the cremated remains, or scatter or bury them somewhere private, you can either keep or dispose of the certificate.
  • Whatever type of container is used by the crematorium or funeral director, it should have an identification label with the name and possibly other details such as a cremation number and a date of cremation. There should be a label on the outside of the container, as well as one on the bag inside, if this is used. Some crematoria place a pottery disc in with the cremation, which is then transferred to the cremated remains so they can be identified.
  • If you have chosen your own container for your person’s cremated remains, then either the funeral director or the crematorium will ensure that they are transferred into it. All identification should be available for you to see (the labelled original container, and/ or the labelled internal bag) and the Certificate of Cremation will accompany your container.
  • When you collect cremated remains from a crematorium, you will be asked to sign to show that you have collected them. It’s important to note that only certain people will be allowed to collect them; the person who applied for the cremation or somebody nominated by them, such as the funeral director. You may be asked to provide identification, such as a passport or driving licence to make sure that you are the right person. 
  • If a funeral director has collected cremated remains for you, you will need to make arrangements with the funeral director directly to have the cremated remains returned to you. All documentation and packaging should be as described above.

We hope that this information will provide reassurance to anyone who is worrying about the provenance of the cremated remains they have received. 

Where there continues to be a concern – if, for example, the container or labelling used seems inadequate, or if no Certificate of Cremation was provided to you with the cremated remains – we suggest contacting the funeral director and crematorium concerned and asking them any questions you might have. Hopefully, they will be able to put your mind at rest; issues with the provenance of cremated remains are extremely rare. 

At the Good Funeral Guide, we do our best to help and advise anyone who has had a difficult experience with a funeral, although of course our powers are limited. 

If you have ongoing concerns about cremated remains returned to you, do contact us by emailing Fran at fran.hall@goodfuneralguide.co.uk and we will see if we can assist you.

The ‘What To Do With The Ashes’ Award 2017

            Toby Angel from Sacred Stones Ltd.

Introduced for the first time in 2017, this category had six shortlisted candidates, all of whom offer alternative solutions to the perennial question of what to do with the ashes.

The runner up in this category was chosen for their personal involvement and artistry in creating bespoke funerary urns with input from families, resulting in unique and beautiful creations.

The winner was chosen for the extraordinary achievement and collaboration between those behind the venture, the master craftsmanship involved, the philosophy that has been so well replicated and the extraordinarily beautiful result.

The Winner is Sacred Stones Ltd with the stone barrow at Willow Row

Runner Up – Ann Bates of Ann Bates Ceramics


Award photograph by Jayne Lloyd

The 2017 Good Funeral Awards were generously sponsored by Greenfield Creations



Sacred Stones

Sacred Stones

The barrow, its shape, its natural stone, its location, instantly gave me the same feeling of the past being an essential part of the present, of our lives being a shared history. Of peace and calm and connection. And I am drawn to the barrow as a place of rest and pilgrimage for exactly those reasons.” Anna Pugh, Bedford.

Last week we visited Willow Row, the round barrow destined to house hundreds of cremated remains that is being constructed in Cambridgeshire by Sacred Stones Ltd. Three of the company directors were there to meet curious locals and others fascinated by the prospect of a Neolithic style barrow being built in the 21st century.

Toby Angel is a former business development manager who met stonemasons Martin Fildes and Geraint Davies just after they had completed work on the long barrow at All Cannings in Wiltshire. Thinking back to his aunt’s cremation service, Toby recalled just what an impersonal experience it had been ‘at an ugly, municipal building’. He felt that there had to be a better way, and when he met Martin and Geraint, he realised that the privately commissioned barrow that they had just created in Wiltshire was it.

A vision of providing a modern interpretation of ancient burial mounds across the UK was born, and now the first of their sites is becoming a reality, in a secluded spinney on farmland near St. Neots. Willow Row round barrow, once complete, will have 345 niches where urns of cremated remains can be placed in hand crafted niches. Most will have space for two urns but there will also be some larger ones where four or five urns can be placed together. Single capsules will also be available, made of Portland Stone and sealed with beeswax.

Sitting in the inner circle of what will become the central chamber, we quizzed Toby and Martin about their ambitions. There was no mistaking the passion that has gripped them personally as the project has taken shape, and both men talked eagerly about what the creation of Willow Row meant to them. There was a strong sense of connection to our ancestors who toiled with stones thousands of years ago to create barrows for their dead to be laid to rest in sacred surroundings. Even Geraint the stonemason, a man of few words (but immense forearms..) became animated when he was explaining how the beautiful limestone being used in the construction tells him where it wants to go. “If it’s not the right place for it, it doesn’t work,” he said.

The organic growth of the barrow belies the years of craftsmanship involved in its design and construction, and even in this early stage it is clear that Willow Row is going to be a beautiful and very special building that will blend into its surroundings in a totally natural way. Sheltered from the environment by the surrounding trees and bushes, the barrow will eventually be covered with topsoil and look as if it has been there for thousands of years. The only sound you hear as you approach it is birdsong, and despite the surrounding fields being part of a working arable farm, there is peacefulness in the chosen spinney around the barrow that is perfectly in keeping with the reverence of it becoming a final resting place for hundreds of people.

We have asked Toby to write a guest blog for us over the coming months as Willow Row reaches completion, and to keep us updated with how his vision, inspired by ancestral rituals and rites, becomes a reality. We liked the idea tremendously. Only time will tell if the people of Cambridgeshire and the surrounding areas do so too, but in the meantime Toby and his co-directors have plans to build more barrows in Hampshire, Herefordshire, Shropshire, Buckinghamshire, Somerset, Yorkshire, Scotland and Wales.

Introducing the Pebblewood Urn

Davina Kemble’s pebblewood coffin was unveiled at the Ideal Death Show 2013. Reviews were mixed. Some undertakers thought it would be impossible to persuade a dead person to conform to its rounded shape; others reckoned there was no problem. Since then, Davina’s partnership with her manufacturer reached a conclusion, but she’s carried on working away at it and a full-size pebble-shaped coffin will soon be on the market.

In the meantime, she has just launched her pebble-shaped ashes urn. It is taking off nicely. She is selling direct to the public through Etsy – here – and of course she’d be pleased to hear from discerning undertakers. Davina’s website is here and her Facebook page here.

Hats off to Davina. She’s stuck the course – she’s done what she’s had to do and seen it through without exemption, etc. There have been forbidding lows that would have done for most of us.

Here at the GFG-Batesville Shard the consensus is that Davina’s pebble urns are rare and lovely. We hope you like them, too.

Not a Good Urner?

Guest post by Tim Morris

The House of Commons Work & Pensions Committee report published on 31st March contained evidence that a funeral director had refused to hand over the ashes of a deceased person to the family concerned until the funeral account had been settled. It should be noted that the ashes of a deceased person have the same status in law as the body of a deceased person, both being the ‘remains of a deceased person’. This is amplified in law in England & Wales in respect of exhumation as lawful authority, via Faculty from the Church of England or license from the Ministry of Justice to exhume, is required in respect of exhumations of both ashes and the body of the deceased.

In the Court of Appeal in Hunter [1974] Q.B. 95 CA (Crim Div) it was held that:

…if it is a crime for the person responsible for burial to prevent it, there is no reason for regarding the act of a stranger in preventing burial as any less reprehensible. We think that in this connection burial means lawful and decent burial. A ‘stranger’, in this context, could include an undertaker. Therefore, whilst there is no direct duty upon an undertaker [funeral director] to dispose of a body after death (that duty lies with the administrator the deceased’s estate, the local authority or hospital), undertakers and any other ‘stranger’ have a duty to not prevent the lawful and decent burial of an individual.

Surely it would not be in the interests of a funeral director to withhold access to ashes as it is unlikely that a person that can’t or won’t settle an account would make an approach. Over time this could result in a cupboard overflowing with urns and caskets as there is no lawful mechanism for a funeral director to dispose of such ashes.

Similarly, grave deeds should perhaps not be made out in the name of a funeral director who then transfers the grave ownership to the family once the account has been settled? Is this not a contract debt that should be chased in the courts as payment of disbursements by a funeral director is part of a contract? The Local Authorities Cemeteries Order 1977 basically states that no [further] burial can take place in any grave nor memorial erected on any grave without the written consent of the owner of the right.

Whilst the majority of good funeral directors would not contemplate nor want to adopt any of the above it does pose a cautionary note for those considering them. Doesn’t it?

Do the math

Add all these up. What do you get? 

  • Phosphate 47.5%
  • Calcium 25.3%
  • Sulfate 11.00%
  • Potassium 3.69%
  • Sodium 1.12%
  • Chloride 1.00%
  • Silica 0.9%
  • Aluminum Oxide 0.72%
  • Magnesium 0.418%
  • Iron Oxide 0.118%
  • Zinc 0.0342%
  • Titanium Oxide 0.0260%
  • Barium 0.0066%
  • Antimony 0.0035%
  • Chromium 0.0018%
  • Copper 0.0017%
  • Manganese 0.0013%
  • Lead 0.0008%
  • Tin 0.0005%
  • Vanadium 0.0002%
  • Beryllium <0.0001%
  • Mercury <0.00001%

No, not Findus lasagne! 

Getting off the rock

The indefatigable Tom Walkinshaw, to whose market  survey many readers of the blog contributed, is coming closer to realising his dream of launching ashes into space. He has given up the day job in order to make it happen. 

He already has a prototype of the satellite that would carry the ashes. It is about the size of a Rubik’s Cube and would hold the ashes of around 40 people. The satellite would be attached to a commercial rocket and launched in the US.

The satellite would then either burn up in space or return to Earth, meaning there would be no space junk or environmental impact. Alba Orbital would also offer a memorial service before the launch and a chance to watch the launch on the internet.

Says Tom:

“There’s an opportunity now in Scotland to be a world leader in small satellites and we want to give it a go.”

More here

A ceremony of ashes

Posted by Vale

We could do with thinking more about what the scattering of ashes. A while ago Evelyn published a wonderful post on the blog (find it here) about scattering Muriel’s ashes in an ‘open, high place’,  and I came across this  poem recently by Edward Storey. It’s a record of a committal, a wonderful tribute and an exploration of what these scatterings can mean. O, and it’s a lovely poem too. Worth a read: 

A Ceremony of Ashes

(In memory of Drew)

The wind was blowing from north to south
To give your wings their eager lift
From man-made boundaries.

Clouds were the continents you crossed,
Hills the last buy cialis 5 mg uk frontier of a life
To reconcile histories.

What joy, what freed exuberance
Suddenly leapt from Offa’s
Creating stars from mortal ash.

You rode like a king on the ancient dyke
To be one with a day that soon unveiled
The landfall of your choice.

You became earth and fire and rain,
Tree-root and leaf, sun-shaft and frost,
Where miles can never pin you down.

Who ever walks this hallowed track
Will, without knowing, always have
Your wise and jovial company.

I came across it in a collection of poems called ‘Almost a Chime Child. It is out of print, but I did find a copy for sale here.

You are the referee

Here’s another pay-up-or-else story — true but anonymised and deliberately undated. 

A funeral director is refusing to hand over the ashes until the balance of the bill is settled — which it will be if the DSS claim is successful. 

Does he have the right to do this? 

You can’t arrest a corpse for debt because there is no property in a corpse. But what is the legal status of ashes? Are they property? This is something the 1902 Cremation Act didn’t think of, as we have seen in an earlier post. Briefly, they are and they aren’t. If they are, then the funeral director would seem to be justified in withholding them against payment. 

Except that the client’s contract, in terms of cremating the body, was with the crematorium, and the fee to the crematorium was a third-party payment paid in full by the funeral director on behalf of the client. The crematorium fulfilled its contract and presumably has the right to expect the funeral director, as the appointed collector of the ashes, to hand them over to its client. 

Other legal advice offered by solicitors in the locality favours the funeral director.

You are the referee. Is the funeral director legally and morally justified in his actions? 

(We don’t know.) 

Crowdsourcing a Space-Age Distribution Strategy

Posted by Tom Walkinshaw

Ed’s note: Tom is an enterprising fellow who has a plan to launch ashes into Space – Space burial, he calls it. He needs your help and expertise to get it off the ground, which is why he crowdsourcing on the blog this morning at our invitation. 

Alba Orbital are now a few steps down the start-up path. We have done a lot of research both online and out in the real world with only one more presentation to go. The journey has been exciting and rewarding (last week I had dinner with Apollo 12 Command module pilot Dick Gordon) but we have reached a crossroads. How do we distribute our service to the masses?

We want to take ashes where not many ashes have before… Space. For the record I do know it sounds crazy and people often wonder why I think it makes sense to do something so left of field. My opinion is that it is being done successfully currently in the USA, so why can’t the UK do it? It is up to people’s personal choice, but it is a choice we must all make. Cremation is now being chosen by 75% of Brits with that number on the rise year-on-year. We want to offer a solution to the Ashes Dilemma.

Things have gone well and we are in talks with a few Universities around collaborating on our first satellite. We have been supported by the Princes Trust who aim to help young people start-up in Business (I am still only 22). We have done well in a National Spin-out competition the ‘Converge Challenge’ and are the first company to incorporate ourselves.

So the challenge we now face is how do we reach our customers? How do we bring an innovative product to a traditional marketplace? We don’t have the answers. We have ideas and that is why we are putting it out to the Good Funeral Guide readership for their opinions on the matter. 420,000 people get cremated each year and none of them know we even exist.

We think a pre-planning option makes a lot sense, staggering the costs and is less of a knee jerk buying decision. For point of use do we partner with Funeral Directors? Would they take us seriously? We would love to know your thoughts. Online is a key tool for all business, but should we invest in allowing our service to be purchased on the web?

There are no dates in our diary for launching our pricing option, we want to do it right rather than do it fast. Any opinion positive/negative is always welcome. Thank you for reading.

Tom Walkinshaw
MD, Alba Orbital

Website: www.albaorbital.com Twitter: @albaorbital Email: contact@albaorbital.com