Though the problems of poor sewage, overcrowding and dangerous water supplies represented primary public health issues in the Georgian period, adequate disposal of the dead also remained a continuing concern to local authorities. With populations growing rapidly after 1750, many parish burial grounds in towns and cities struggled to cope with the increasing number of interments that were required each year. This problem was felt most acutely in London parishes, where provisions for the burial of the dead had remained unchanged for decades.
In this article from the 1770s, the writer complains of the common practice of keeping grave-pits in parish burial grounds open to public view until they were filled with several coffins. In many graveyards, coffins and bones were often to be found bursting from the surface, with local inhabitants forced to endure over-powering smells from decomposing bodies. Burials in churches were often no better. Worshippers were sometimes left gagging from the smell of decomposition during services. In 1839, in London’s Clement’s Lane, one chapel was found to contain 12,000 burials beneath the floor, in a space measuring just 59 feet by 12.
- Article by:
- Matthew White
Against a backdrop of industrialisation and the subsequent over-crowding in the cities, Matthew White investigates health and hygiene in 18th century Britain.
- Article by:
- John Mullan
- The novel 1832–1880
The deathbed is an iconic scene in Victorian fiction. Professor John Mullan considers its potential for sentimentality and satire.