Probably the first, best known mention of cremation is in the Book of Genesis when Abraham is ordered by God to prepare the funeral pyre for the sacrifice of his son, Isaac. This proposed cremation is followed by reports of others throughout the Old and New Testaments, and by the time of the ancient Roman and Greek civilizations cremation had been generally adopted as a method of disposing of the dead. With the advent and spread of Christianity, however, and its concomitant belief in the resurrection of the dead, cremation fell into disfavour and by the fifth century the practice had become almost completely obsolete.
The history of cremation, therefore, is the history of a struggle against conservatism, custom and prejudice; a struggle to reform the burial system and restore cremation to its former legal and popular usage. The task, undertaken in Great Britain almost 100 years ago, is nearing successful completion as cremation, in its modern, scientific form, is now accepted by over 56% of the population.
The first re-emergence of interest in cremation in modern times was in 1658 in an essay Hydriotaphia: Urn Burial, by Sir Thomas Browne, a physician from Norwich, but it was in 1664 in a book entitled Philosophical Discourses of the Virtuosi of France that it was first advocated as an alternative to burial. During the next two centuries numerous other discussions on this question took place but the grand revival of the subject really occurred in 1869 when it was presented to the Medical International Congress of Florence by Professors Coletti and Castiglioni "in the name of public health and civilization". 1872 saw more papers advocating cremation, the most important being that of Dr. Polli, as it contained results of the first experimental researches. The following year Professor Gorini of Lodi and Professor Brunetti of Padua also published reports or practical work they had conducted. A model of Professor Brunetti's cremating apparatus, together with the resulting ashes, was exhibited at the Vienna Exposition in 1873 and attracted great attention, including that of Sir Henry Thompson, Bart., F.R.C.S., Surgeon to Queen Victoria, who returned home to become the first and chief promoter of cremation in England.
Sir Henry Thompson had been so impressed that he wrote a paper entitled The Treatment of the Body after Death, published in The Contemporary Review for January, 1874. His main reason for supporting cremation was that "it was becoming a necessary sanitary precaution against the propagation of disease among a population daily growing larger in relation to the area it occupied".
Although the main argument he advanced was a sanitary one, other reasons are not lacking. Cremation, he believed, would prevent premature burial, would reduce the expense of funerals, would spare mourners the necessity of standing exposed to the weather during interment and the ashes, kept in urns in columbaria, would be safe from vandalism. Sir Henry Thompson also boldly advanced a further economic-technical argument; namely, that the ashes might be used as fertilizer!
An able reply from Mr. Holland, Medical Inspector of Burials for England and Wales, opposing the innovation as not being a sanitary necessity, elicited a second, more powerful paper from Sir Henry Thompson. This provoked lively discussion and intense controversy in the Press and Sir Henry himself received over 800 letters from the public.
Encouraged by the reception of his articles, Sir Henry Thompson called a meeting of a number of his friends at his house at 35 Wimpole Street on 13th January, 1874, when a declaration was drawn up and signed by those present.
We, the undersigned, disapprove the present custom of burying the dead, and we desire to substitute some mode which shall rapidly resolve the body into its component elements, by a process which cannot offend the living, and shall render the remains perfectly innocuous. Until some better method is devised we desire to adopt that usually known as cremation.
This document is particularly interesting because of the list of signatures, including, in addition to that of Sir Henry Thompson, those of Shirley Brooks, Frederick Lehmann, John Everett Millais, John Tenniel, Anthony Trollope and Sir T. Spencer Wells, representing the realms of art, science, literature and medicine.
By this simple act The Cremation Society of England came into being. According to the founder, Sir Henry Thompson, it was "organised expressly for the purpose of obtaining and disseminating information on the subject and for adopting the best method of performing the process, as soon as this could be determined, provided that the act was not contrary to Law". Membership of the Society was constituted by subscription to the declaration, which had been carefully drawn up so as to ensure the approval of a principle rather than adhesion to any specific practice.
The first duty of the Council of the Cremation Society was to ascertain whether cremation could be legally performed in this country and a case was drawn up and submitted to eminent counsel. Opinion being favourable, it was proposed to erect a building for the performance of the rite and a large sum of money was subscribed for this purpose. A piece of ground was offered to the Society in the Great Northern Cemetery of London and the building would immediately have been erected had the Bishop of Rochester, within whose jurisdiction the cemetery lay, not prohibited the establishment of a crematorium on consecrated land.
The Council then sought an independent site and an acre of freehold land adjoining the cemetery at Woking, which seemed to meet their needs, was bought from the London Necropolis Company. It was both secluded yet readily accessible, as a train service, suitable for the conveyance of the dead, already ran between London and Woking.
Professor Gorini of Lodi, Italy, was invited to visit this country and supervise the erection of his apparatus, assisted by Mr. William Eassie, the Cremation Society's Honorary Secretary. On 17th March, 1879, the body of a horse was cremated and, on seeing how completely and rapidly it was reduced to ashes, Sir Henry Thompson later observed that it foreshadowed the result which numerous actual cremations have since realised, namely, that by this process complete combustion of an adult human body is effected in from one to two hours and is so perfectly accomplished that no smoke or effluvia escapes from the chimney.
The inhabitants of Woking, however, showed strong antipathy to the crematorium and, led by the vicar, a small but zealous deputation appealed to the Home Secretary, Sir Richard Cross, to prohibit the use of the building. Despite also hearing the case of the Cremation Society, the Home Secretary, fearing cremation might be used to prevent the detection of death following violence or poison, refused to allow the continuance of the practice until Parliament itself had authorised it by either a general or special act. With the threat of either legal or parliamentary proceedings against them, the Cremation Society was forced to abandon further experiments. From March, 1879, therefore, the function of the Society was restricted to spreading information and trying to change the public attitude to cremation.
The period of quiescence ended in 1882, when the Council of the Cremation Society was requested by Captain Hanham of Blandford, Dorset, to undertake the cremation of two deceased members of his family who had left expressed instructions to that effect. The Home Secretary, when applied to, repeated his previous objections and the Society was thus unable to comply with the request of Captain Hanham, who consequently erected a crematorium on his own estate and proceeded to cremate his wife and mother on 8th and 9th October. Captain Hanham himself died about a year later and was also cremated there. Although these events excited much comment in the Press, the Home Office took no action. Nevertheless, the following year, when the eccentric Dr. William Price attempted to cremate the body of his five months old son, christened Jesus Christ, born to him at the age of 83, he was at once arrested and put on trial at the South Glamorgan Assizes in Cardiff. Dr. Price claimed to be a Druid High Priest and performed the rites dressed in a white tunic over green trousers. The result of the trial, announced in February, 1884, was the breakthrough the Cremation Society had been waiting for. Mr. Justice Stephen delivered his all important pronouncement that cremation is legal provided no nuisance is caused in the process to others. Following this, Dr. Price tried to claim £3,120 damages against the police for preventing the completion of his son's cremation. He was, however, awarded the nominal sum of only one farthing.
Fortified by the Cardiff judgement, the Council of the Cremation Society declared itself absolved from the promise to the Home Secretary and issued a circular informing the public it was now prepared to proceed with the cremation of anyone so requesting it.
The Cremation Society, however, realised that it was imperative at this stage to give no cause whatever for criticism and, consequently, three conditions had to be strictly observed before a body would be accepted for cremation at Woking, As an appendix to his book Modern Cremation, Sir Henry Thompson published the text of the forms which the Cremation Society required to be completed for each cremation. These conditions, designed to prevent the destruction of a body which might have met death illegally, continued for many years to be the only form of certification for cremation and they remain substantially the basis of the statutory forms used at the present time!
Despite these precautions, the Council of the Cremation Society fully appreciated that some form of official regulation was desirable, and accordingly on 30th April, 1884, Dr. Cameron (later Sir Charles Cameron), Member for Glasgow, introduced a Bill in the House of Commons to provide for the regulation of cremation and other means of disposal of the dead. Dr. Cameron was supported by Dr. Farquharson, the Member for Aberdeen, another member of the Council, and Sir Lyon Playfair. The Bill was, nevertheless, opposed not only by the Government but also by the Leader of the Opposition. 149 voted against it, but the 79 votes in favour of it were far more than the promoters had dared hope.
Meanwhile, on 26th March, 1885 the first official cremation at Woking took place. Mrs. Pickersgill, a well-known figure in literary and scientific circles, was the first of three cremations that year. Mr. Charles William Carpenter was cremated on 19th October and in December the third cremation, even though the body of a fourteen stone woman, was again successfully performed in only 1½ hours. In 1886 ten bodies were cremated.
During the year 1888, in which 28 cremations took place, the Council of the Cremation Society issued a special appeal to the public for funds to carry out a plan to provide a chapel, waiting rooms and other amenities at the Woking Crematorium. The subscription list was headed by the dukes of Bedford and Westminster, but the appeal realised a sum of only £1,500, which was less than was required for the purpose. At this point the 9th Duke of Bedford stepped in, and through his munificence, it was possible, not only to complete the buildings, but to purchase further ground adjacent to the property. The buildings were constructed in the character of English thirteenth-century Gothic and were available for use at the beginning of January, 1891. The whole of the property constituted a freehold without encumbrance and was vested in the hands of trustees. In 1892 104 cremations were carried out at Woking and the Cremation Movement may at this stage be considered to have been successfully launched.
In the meantime, interest in cremation had begun to spread to other parts of the country. In 1891 a society had been formed in Glasgow to be known as the Scottish Burial Reform and Cremation Society for the purpose of advocating "Simplicity in funerals and to provide for those who may declare their preference for it".
For a time the new society concentrated on propaganda by means of publicity in the Press and the reading of papers to various societies, and it was not until 1895 that they were able to establish their crematorium.
To Manchester, therefore, fell the honour of providing the first crematorium in the provinces, when in 1892 a group of public-spirited citizens formed a company which built, on the south side of the city, the crematorium which has played a considerable part in the development of cremation in the North West.
Four years later similar action was taken by a group of citizens of Liverpool where the fourth crematorium in Great Britain was established.
Throughout this period the Cremation Society maintained its propaganda, both in the press and on the public platform. In 1899 one of its more prominent members, Dr. Farquharson, M.P., who had previously rendered great service in the House of Commons in support of Sir Charles Cameron's Bill to regulate cremation, delivered a lecture in the City of Aberdeen which remains to the present day an outstanding pronouncement on the subject of cremation. Dr. Farquharson's lecture was printed and widely distributed and undoubtedly had considerable influence on those who heard and read it.
Back in London the Council of the Cremation Society was seeking a site for a crematorium on the north side of London and, after many years of failure, at last succeeded in obtaining a piece of land adjacent to Hampstead Heath. In 1900, at the instigation of the Council of the Cremation Society, the London Cremation Company Limited, was formed with the object of establishing a crematorium on the new-found site. The necessary funds were obtained and a distinguished architect, Sir Ernest George, R.A., was appointed to plan what was to become one of the most famous crematoria in the whole of the world, namely Golders Green.
In the following year, the Darlington Cremation Society built a crematorium in the grounds of the public cemetery and branches of the Darlington Society were created in Sunderland and at Tyneside. It was in this year, however, that a most significant event occurred: the opening of the first municipal crematorium in Great Britain at Hull. Until now, private individuals were, of their own accord, or acting through the medium of the Cremation Society, responsible for combating the great prejudice which cremation had encountered and also for the establishment of the four existing crematoria. Now, for the first time, a local authority had acknowledged how important it was, both socially and economically, to provide cremation services for the community.
Two outstanding events made the year 1902 memorable. It was in this year that there was passed an Act of Parliament for the Regulation of burning of human remains, and to enable burial authorities to establish crematoria. Thus 28 years after the abortive parliamentary efforts of Sir Charles Cameron and his friends, cremation had achieved a form of governmental regulation and it thereby became officially recognised in the highest quarters. The new Act of Parliament gave powers to the Home Secretary to make Regulations which were published as Statutory Rules and Orders in March1903.
The second significant occurrence of 1902 was the opening, in November, of the Golders Green Crematorium when the ceremony was performed by the President of the Cremation Society, Sir Henry Thompson. The creation of this great new crematorium, as Sir Henry pointed out, was due in large measure to the zeal and foresight of Mr. Martin Ridley Smith, the chairman of the company and Mr. J. C. Swinburne-Hanham, the Managing Director of the company. Both were members of the Council of the Cremation Society and Mr. Swinburne-Hanham, who had succeeded Mr. William Eassie as the Honorary Secretary of the Society, had already played a decisive part in the history of the cremation movement by assisting at the cremation ceremony which took place at Blandford, Dorset, in 1882 in opposition to the ruling of the Home Secretary. 1902 also saw the opening of the Leicester Crematorium which was established by the Borough Council on the instigation of the local branch of the Cremation Society. Leicester thus became the second municipality to own a crematorium.
The year 1903 witnessed the further spread of cremation in The Midlands. A company having been formed for the purpose, a crematorium was built on a site at Perry Barr, Birmingham, with the expressed approval of the Bishops of Worcester, Lichfield and Coventry and the support of Sir Oliver Lodge, then Principal of the Birmingham University. The performance of the opening ceremony at this crematorium was one of the last public acts of Sir Henry Thompson as the President of the Cremation Society, for on 18th April, 1904, to the great sorrow of all his colleagues, the founder and inspirer of the cremation movement had passed away. For thirty years he had presided over the activities of the Society. Quoting from the Report of the Council:
"He was no mere ornamental head, but combined the functions of an active and deeply interested chairman of committee with those of a zealous and skilful advocate of cremation in the press and on the platform. By his death the Council lose a kind friend and a powerful and trusted colleague; the Cremation Society its distinguished President; and the friends of cremation, the world over, the foremost exponent of its value as a measure of sanitary reform."
With the death of the founder, we reach the end of the first thirty years of the Society's history and it may be of interest to look back over the period and to assess the progress achieved at that date. As we have already noted, by the end of the year 1904 there were nine crematoria in operation in Great Britain, situated at Woking, Manchester, Glasgow, Liverpool, Hull, Darlington, Leicester, Golders Green and Birmingham. Of these, two (Hull and Leicester) the number of cremations carried out at these crematoria was 569. Since the opening of the Woking Crematorium in 1885 there had been a total of 4,409 cremations in Great Britain, of which number 2,653 had taken place at Woking.
The movement was still small in terms of numbers but it enjoyed the support of many influential and powerful persons, drawn largely from the ranks of the learned and artistic professions and from the nobility. Thus we find the Dukes of Bedford and Westminster among the list of vice-presidents of the Society and, among the ranks of its supporters and members, the name of the President of the Royal Society, famous painters authors and scientists, and more than one bishop. Indeed, the pronouncement of the Bishops of Manchester, Lichfield, Coventry, Lincoln, Ripon and Worcester were among the most positive assertions of the efficacy of cremation during this period.
Lastly, and by no means least in importance, there was now an Act of Parliament on the Statute Book which recognised the legality of cremation and provided the machinery for its regulation. Of Thompson it can be said that few men, from such inauspicious beginnings, can have achieved so great a measure of success in their own lifetime.
The close of the long reign of Sir Henry Thompson brought to the Cremation Society's highest office an ardent and able advocate of cremation in the person of Sir Charles Cameron, Bart., M.P., who had already played an important role in the fight for parliamentary recognition and regulation of the practice of cremation. At the same time, Sir Herbert Thompson, Bart., the son of the late President and founder, was appointed Honorary Treasurer of the Society and Mr. H. T. Herring, F.R.C.S., was elected a member of the Council. Mr. Herring, who had been associated with Sir Henry Thompson in his surgical practice, was a man of outdating ability who was to exercise a dominating influence in the cremation movement for many years.
During the next five years, the Cremation Society concentrated on the improvement of facilities at their Woking Crematorium where a new form of catafalque with a mechanical working device was introduced and a new type of furnace installed. In addition the steady conduct of propaganda continued, and new centres for the provision of cremation services were developed by the Corporation of the City of London, the Corporation of Bradford and the Burial Board of Leeds, all in 1904, and the Corporation of Sheffield in 1905. In 1909 the voluntary committee, which had handed the property to the Liverpool Crematorium, handed the property to the Liverpool Corporation, by whom it has been controlled ever since. Further north, in 1909, a cremation society was formed in Edinburgh to advocate the establishment of a crematorium in that city.
From this point to the outbreak of the war on 4th August, 1914, the main interest centres upon the slow but definite growth in the number of cremations carried out at the thirteen crematoria. For the first time, the annual figures reached 1,000, in 1911, and of this number, 542 were cremated at Golders Green. By the end of 1914 the national figure was 1,279.
Most people are aware of the fact that the bodies of distinguished persons destined for repose in Westminster Abbey must first be cremated. This desirable practice was first adopted on the death of the great actor, Sir Henry Irving, but the records show that, to the expressed regret of the Council of the Cremation Society, the same procedure was not adopted in the two subsequent cases of burial in the Abbey. In 1910, however, the Dean and Chapter insisted upon cremation in the case of Sir Joseph Hooker, and this ruling has persisted ever since.
The year 1914, the fortieth of the life of the Cremation Society, brought many changes in the social and economic life of the community. The attitude of the individual to many of the problems of life underwent a radical change, but perhaps more significant still was the change which the war was to bring about in man's attitude to death.
The outbreak of the Great War in August 1914 had the same effect on the Cremation Society as on most other social organisations. During the period of the war very little propaganda activity was possible, but it is interesting to record that one crematorium, namely West Norwood, was opened in the year 1915 by a private company. In the preceding year the Society had lost by death one of its earliest supporters in the person of Sir John Tenniel, Royal Academician, who was at one time editor of Punch and is known today mainly as the illustrator of the original edition of Alice in Wonderland. Sir John Tenniel was one of the distinguished group of artists, writers and scientists who were signatories to the original declaration in 1874. In 1916 the secretary, Mr. George Noble, joined the army and Sir Herbert Thompson, Bart., son of the founder, acted as secretary of the Society until Mr. Noble's return from active service in 1918.
Meanwhile, the Cremation Society had experienced a stroke of good fortune as a recipient of a legacy of £10,000 under the will of Mr. George Patrickson. This generous bequest was to prove the basis of much of the work of expansion which was recorded in later years. The only other event of importance during this period was the cremation in 1917 of H.R.H. the Duchess of Connaught. In a country where the most minute details of the affairs of the royal family are carefully recorded and widely publicised it cannot be doubted that the cremation of the Duchess must have induced many people to regard cremation more favourably than before.
With the coming of peace, there were signs of the spreading of the cremation movement into Wales, when in 1919, an unsuccessful effort was made to found a cremation society. Some years later, however, tangible evidence of this pioneer propaganda work was seen when the first Welsh crematorium was built at Pontypridd in 1923.
During the same year the increased demand upon the services of the Golders Green Crematorium prompted the Council of the Cremation Society to seek a site for a new crematorium in the Greater London area. Their search, however, was unavailing.
About this time one detects an increasing interest in the subject of cremation amongst leading members of the Church of England. We have already noted a number of episcopal pronouncements in favour of cremation and also the decision of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster to insist upon cremation as a pre-requisite to burial in the Abbey. As even more practical evidence of the growing interest of the Episcopate, the records show that during this year two bishops of the Anglican Church, Bishop Mitchinson and Bishop Hicks of Lincoln were cremated, a circumstance which no doubt influenced church people. In the following year the Bishop of St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich was cremated and the crematorium at Golders Green was the scene of cremation of those two very widely differing personalities, H. M. Hyndmann, the socialist pioneer, and Admiral of the Fleet, Lord Fisher.
The year 1921 was also one of considerable domestic importance to the Cremation Society for at the Annual General Meeting of the members held in April of that year, Sir Charles Cameron resigned the presidency of the Society which he had held for 17 years. The meeting placed on record the Society's deep appreciation of the great services which Sir Charles had rendered to the Society and appointed as the third president, the Duke of Bedford. At the same time the Council of the Society took the step which was to prove of the greatest significance to the movement in the years that lay ahead. It resolved that efforts should be made to promote a conference of British Cremation Authorities "with the object of facilitating the working of the Cremation Act and Regulations and of quickening interest in cremation". It was in the following October (1922) that the first conference of cremation authorities was held under the auspices of the Cremation Society at the London Guildhall.
During the next three years events crowd upon each other. Mr. J. C. Swinburne-Hanham, one of the most honoured names in cremation history, resigned his office of Honorary Secretary to which he had been originally appointed by Sir Henry Thompson. He was succeeded in that office by Sir Peter Chalmers Mitchell who is perhaps better known as the architect of the modern London Zoo. Within a year of his election as Honorary Secretary of the Society, Sir Peter Chalmers Mitchell found himself succeeding Sir Malcolm Morris as the Chairman of the Cremation Society, and this move brought to the office of Honorary Secretary the commanding figure of Mr. H. T. Herring. Mr. Herring thus began in an executive capacity a career which left its mark upon the cremation movement for many years to come. At the same meeting, Sir Thomas (later Lord) Horder, was elected a member of the Council.
In 1923, at the second conference of cremation authorities held at Liverpool, the important decision was made to form the Federation of Cremation Authorities in Great Britain. The Federation operated within the framework of the Cremation Society and its convener was Mr. Arthur E. Piggott of Manchester whose great work for cremation, not only in the Manchester district but throughout the country, is familiar to all cremationists. In the same year a parliamentary committee was formed to draft a Bill entitled Births and Deaths Registration Act to deal with the matter of death certification, and this new Bill came before Parliament and into force in 1926.
At the third conference of cremation authorities, held at Wembley, the rules of the new Federation of Cremation Authorities in Great Britain were approved. That same conference was addressed by the significant figure of Bishop Gore, one of the acknowledged leaders of the Anglican Church, who declared himself unequivocably in favour of cremation. 1924 ended regrettably with the death of Sir Charles Cameron, who had resigned the Presidency of the Society in 1921. The work of Sir Charles Cameron for the cause of cremation finds its memorial in the form of a stained-glass window in the chapel of the Woking crematorium.
During the next three years the cremation movement spread to various parts of the British Empire. The first crematorium was established in South Africa in 1926, the same time as the Cremation Society of Australia was founded. The following year the first crematorium was built in New Zealand. At home, new crematoria had meanwhile appeared at Bristol and Ipswich. In 1928 the Council resolved to obtain new office accommodation an obvious sign of the extension of the Society's activities and in June of that year the freehold of 47 (formerly No. 23) Nottingham Place was purchased and the Society's staff moved to begin their long tenancy of that building.
The Federation of Cremation Authorities in Great Britain was now firmly established and holding its conference annually at various provincial centres. At the same time local authorities and others were taking a lively interest in this new movement and, during the next three years, crematoria were built at Edinburgh, Guernsey and Brighton. The Home Office too was taking a greater interest in cremation, for in 1930 the Secretary of State for Home Affairs, Mr. J. R. Clynes, issued the new Cremation Regulations which have remained in force with but minor alterations to the present date. The same year "The Cremation Society of England" was renamed "The Cremation Society" in order to exemplify its application to the whole of Great Britain and not merely to one portion of the country. In 1930 we also find the first attempts at international reciprocity when the Society entered into agreements with several of the Scandinavian cremation societies to be of mutual assistance to members of the various societies dying abroad.
In 1931 there was the publication of the second edition of the early work Cremation in Great Britain. This second edition appeared in a more pretentious format and included illustrated descriptions of all the existing British crematoria together with summaries of all the legal enactments connected with cremation. This marked the start of a new approach to the matter of publications by the the Cremation Society. The same year the Secretary, Mr. George Noble, visited Scandinavia where he made close contacts with the leading cremationists in Norway, Sweden and Denmark and returned with many new ideas arising from these meetings.
In the year 1932 the Cremation Society ceased to be a cremation authority. Having established the first crematorium in Great Britain and controlled it with increasing success over many years, the Society now transferred the ownership of this crematorium to the London Cremation Company Limited, which was the authority controlling the Golders Green Crematorium. In the same year the eleventh conference of British Cremation Authorities, held at Brighton, was also the first joint conference with the then National Association of Cemetery and Crematorium Superintendents, now known as the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management (ICCM).
In the following year an attempt to bring together all the various organisations directly or indirectly concerned with the disposal of the human dead resulted in the formation of the National Council for the Disposition of the Dead, under the Presidency of Lord Horder. This Council set out with the hope of one day obtaining some form of codification of the burial laws and also obtaining a measure of registration for funeral directors. It attracted to itself many important national organisations and did valuable work until the outbreak of the Second World War brought its career to an end.
As we read the records over the period, it is becoming clear that the history of modern cremation is now gradually but perceptibly approaching the end of an epoch. The movement is spreading throughout the whole of the provinces in this country and throughout the British Commonwealth. New crematoria are being established everywhere, and new methods of propaganda are being introduced.
At the beginning of this chapter we recorded an annual total figure of 1,279 cremations. By the end of 1934 this figure had risen to 8,337 cremations. This increase, in terms of modern experience may not seem spectacular, but its growth over the period had been steady and pointed clearly in the direction of the growing acceptance of the principle of cremation by the people of this country. Soon the industrial classes were to be brought within the orbit of the movement, but it can be safely said of this third period that the foundations so truly laid by the pioneers were proving capable of bearing a growing superstructure, the limits of whose height and breadth were as yet unknown.
Sixty years had passed since that day in January, 1874, when the distinguished group of pioneers met at the residence of Sir Henry Thompson and drew up the declaration on which was founded the Cremation Society of England. In this declaration they asserted their belief in the system known as cremation and stated their wish to adopt this system until a better one had been devised. It is clear from our record of the past sixty years that their fellow citizens in this country were gradually coming round to the same point of view and, which is of equal importance, that local authorities were now recognising the significance of cremation and the need to provide the necessary facilities to meet the growing demand on the part of the public.
The cremation movement had survived the discouragement and troubles of its early years it was now growing up. But with the development in the stature there came other problems. To the Council of the Cremation Society the immediate problem was to convince the masses of the people that cremation was suitable for their purposes and that it was not purely a perquisite of the intellectual and monied section of society. In an effort to solve this problem the Council of the Cremation Society during the next two years embarked upon two original ventures. In the first place, recognising the need for a medium whereby the developments of the various aspects of cremation should find expression, they decided to found a quarterly magazine which, under the title of PHAROS, was first published in the autumn of 1934, and soon established itself as the official journal of the movement both at home and abroad.
In the second place the Council of the Cremation Society, resolving to bring cremation prominently to the notice of the industrial classes, decided to launch a scheme of cremation assurance whereby it was possible for persons who so desired to pre-pay their cremation fee by regular instalments.
The scheme was greatly assisted by cremation authorities who immediately agreed to accept the policies of cremation assurance in the same way that they had always accepted the life membership certificates of the Cremation Society. Cremation Assurance continued to thrive in its original form until 1950 when a change in the constitution of the Cremation Society brought into being the Cremation Assurance Friendly Society to which the assurance was transferred.
At this time the movement suffered a severe loss in the death of Mr. J. C. Swinburne-Hanham, who had been for many years the Honorary Secretary of the Cremation Society, and had been associated with the Founder President, Sir Henry Thompson. Mr. Swinburne-Hanham, who was largely responsible for the establishment of the Golders Green Crematorium, had rendered invaluable service to the cremation movement which owes him a considerable debt of gratitude.
Evidence of the changing attitude of ecclesiastics towards cremation was provided in 1935 when the body of the Bishop of Derby was cremated, and further afield in India, the remains of Dr. Kurialachery, the late Roman Catholic Archbishop of Changanacherry, who died in Rome some years earlier, were brought back to his home and were cremated in the presence of many thousands of Roman Catholics.
In the following year, the Council of the Cremation Society elected as its Chairman, the King's Physician, Lord Horder, who had been a member of the Council for a number of years, but who now came to a position in which he was able to exert a great influence upon the movement, and by his great prestige bring the idea of cremation forcibly and authoritatively before a much wider public.
In 1936 an outstanding event in the field of international cremation took place in Prague, where, at the invitation of the Czechoslovak Cremation Society, leading cremationists from eleven European countries met to discuss their various problems. At the end of this conference it was unanimously resolved to explore the possibilities of bringing into being a permanent international organisation, and a committee of four, consisting of: Mr. F. Mencl of Prague, M. H. Ferre of Lyons, Professor H. Zeiss of Berlin, and Mr. Herbert Jones of London, was appointed to draw up a draft constitution to be presented at an International Congress to be convened in London the following year. The London congress was duly held the following September when the International Cremation Federation was officially founded and its constitution approved. As the first officers of the new Federation, Dr. P. H. Van Roojen of The Hague was elected President and Mr. Herbert Jones of London was elected Secretary-General. The Federation is now a world-wide organisation made up of over 40 countries. The aims of the Federation include the promotion and provision of information about the practice of cremation. The Society continues to play an integral role within the Federation. From 1990 to 2003 the Society provided the Federation's Secretariat. The Society's former Secretary served as Secretary-General from 1990 to 2003, when he was elected Senior-Vice President. In 1996 the Federation achieved Non-Governmental Consultative status with the Economic and Social Committee of the United Nations.
For details about the work, constitution and membership of the International Cremation Federation visit its website.
The three years immediately before the Second World War were noteworthy for the unprecedented number of crematoria opened in Great Britain. New crematoria were built at Blackpool, Dundee, Charing, Streatham, Harrogate, Norwich, Islington, Birmingham, Croydon, St. Marylebone, Cheltenham, Bournemouth, Aberdeen, Wandsworth, Leeds, Rochdale, Enfield, Paisley, Cambridge, Mortlake, Leith, Oxford, Weymouth, Kensal Green and Northampton.
Among the distinguished personages who were cremated during this period were:
Lord Snowden, first Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer; Mr. Ramsay McDonald, first Labour Prime Minister; and Sir Austen Chamberlain, the late Foreign Secretary.
Towards the end of the year 1937 Mr. George Noble resigned the post of Secretary of the Cremation Society, which he had held since 1900, and Mr. P. Herbert Jones, who had previously occupied the post of Organising Secretary of Cremation Assurance and Editor of Pharos, was appointed the General Secretary.
The increased administration, made necessary by the tremendous upsurge in the number of crematoria, justified an important change in the affairs of the Federation of Cremation Authorities in Great Britain, which acquired a new constitution and the new title of Federation of British Cremation Authorities. The Federation, which had started life as a branch of the Cremation Society and had been nurtured by the Council of the Cremation Society through its growing years, had now become autonomous, with its own constitution and complete control over its own affairs, thereby fulfilling the hopes of its founders that it would become an important and authoritative entity within the framework of the British cremation movement.
The Cremation Society had seen the value of holding annual conferences through which the link between the central body and members could be strengthened, and realising that great advances could only be made if all the forces throughout the country were co-ordinated and utilised, it initiated a series of purely cremationist annual conferences at which vital issues affecting cremation administration and propaganda are discussed by both professional and non-professional cremationists. The first conference was held in 1938 in Balliol College, Oxford.
With the war clouds over Europe there came a need for retrenchment and, in common with other voluntary societies, the Cremation Society decided for the time being to concentrate its efforts on matters of a routine character. At least one important success was, however, achieved. In view of the generally held belief at the time that aerial bombing on the part of the enemy would result in many thousands of civilian casualties and resultant difficulties, the Council of the Cremation Society successfully petitioned the Home Secretary to make new emergency regulations to meet these needs, and these emergency regulations under which several thousands were cremated during the war, remained in effect until the signing of the peace.
The year 1940, which witnessed the opening of two more crematoria at Stoke-on-Trent and at Kettering, was noteworthy for the fact that on the death of the Duke of Bedford, Lord Horder was unanimously elected President of the Cremation Society. For some years he continued to hold with this office the appointment of Chairman of the Council which he later relinquished, but, to the great advantage of the cremation movement, he retained the presidency, exercising enormous authority and influence until the day of his death on 13th August, 1955.
The war was now raging and little is to be recorded of this period in which few innovations took place but many losses were sustained. In 1941 a fourth member of the Royal Family, H.R.H. the Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, son of Queen Victoria, was cremated, but, important though this event was, perhaps the more far-reaching in its consequences was the cremation in 1944 of Dr. William Temple, the Archbishop of Canterbury, at Charing Crematorium, Kent. Dr. Temple was the first Primate of All England to be cremated and there can be no question that his cremation had an immense effect upon the opinion of church people not only in this country, but throughout the whole Anglican community.
The year 1946, which brought peace, also witnessed the rise of the annual figure of cremations in this country to a total of 50,000. During the preceding two years, several important events had taken place. In the first place, on the recommendation of the Council of the Cremation Society, the Committee of the Federation had adopted what became known as a Code of Cremation Practice, a code which was to be accepted by all cremation authorities and was to provide the ethical standard by which crematoria were to be administered. This event was followed shortly afterwards by the transfer of the headquarters of the Federation to London and the appointment as Secretary of the Federation of Mr. Herbert Jones. Coincident with these changes there came into being the Cremation Council of Great Britain, which was a joint consultative committee on which the Society and the Federation had equal representation. This enabled a united cremation movement to make authoritative approach to Government departments on all important issues.
In the same year the cremation of Mr. H. G. Wells was an event of public interest, as was the cremation, also at Charing Crematorium, Kent, of Archbishop Lord Lang, the predecessor of Dr. Temple as Primate of All England. Thus in the space of two years two Primates of All England had been cremated and a lead had been given from the very highest level to church people in support of this ever-growing cremation movement.
In the year 1947 another ex-Prime Minister, Lord Baldwin, was cremated and the Cremation Society had a further personal loss in the death of Mr. Herbert T. Herring, who over a period of many years had exercised a powerful influence. Associated in his early days with Sir Henry Thompson, Mr Herring was elected to the Council of the Cremation Society in 1903 and succeeded Mr. J C. Swinburne-Hanham as the Honorary Secretary. He had also held the office of Chairman of the Federation of British Cremation Authorities. In all these positions he had played a considerable part in the development of the movement in all its aspects, but perhaps his most enduring work was done at the Woking Crematorium where, in the capacity of Managing Director of the London Cremation Company, he was responsible for the development of the garden which today ranks among the most beautiful crematorium gardens in the country.
In the following year the first post-war International Congress was held at The Hague where a representative gathering of cremationists elected Professor Dr. K. Secher of Copenhagen as the new President.
A period of intense frustration followed the end of the war. A considerable acceleration of the progress of cremation had occurred during the war, the figures rising from 16,312 in 1933 to 50,000 in 1946, plainly showing that the public were prepared to accept cremation in ever-growing numbers, but the facilities were just not available. Local authorities, concerned with the many social demands being made upon land resources, hoped cremation might make a substantial contribution to the solution, and so they were disappointed by the refusal of the Minister of Health, Mr. Aneurin Bevan, to approve their plans owing to the severe restrictions on building activities imposed by the Treasury. The Cremation Council of Great Britain, however, submitted a memorandum to the Minister of Health on behalf of the local authorities impressing on him the fact that the present 58 crematoria were insufficient to meet the growing demand. The first request on behalf of 15 local authorities, selected on account of their urgent need, was refused but the Council pressed their case and eventually in 1948 restrictions were relaxed for five local authorities, Blackburn, Bolton, Grimsby, Kingston-on-Thames and Southend-on-Sea, who were invited to submit proposals to the appropriate regional building committee. In addition to these favoured five, Sunderland was allowed to submit plans for completion of its crematorium started before the outbreak of war. This was the beginning of a post-war policy of encouraging local authorities to provide crematoria where the need was proved, and wherever possible, to combine with neighbouring local authorities to provide these services. Although this policy was not consistently pursued by the Minister's successors, the efforts of the Society in this direction, nevertheless, met with considerable success.
This post-war deadlock was broken in 1951 when Sunderland Corporation at last opened its crematorium. In the three following years new crematoria were opened at Birmingham, Kingston-on-Thames, Skipton, Middleton, Gloucester, Southend-on-Sea, Dukinfield, Oldham, Cardiff, East London, Wolverhampton, Grimsby, Bolton and South West Middlesex. By this time the Minister had recognised the need for a national plan for crematoria, where crematoria were in future to be provided in places where they would meet the needs both of densely populated areas and of the scattered rural ones.
The bodies of three distinguished public figures were cremated during this period. The cremations at Golders Green of Mr. George Bernard Shaw and Mr. Ernest Bevin, Foreign Secretary, attracted wide attention, whilst the cremation in Switzerland of Sir Stafford Cripps, the late Foreign Secretary, received considerable notice in the European Press.
The Cremation Act of 1902 was clearly outmoded despite the Regulations having been redrafted in 1927 and 1930. Legislative changes were imperative to remove the anomalies preventing further development of crematoria. The 27-page report of the Interdepartmental Committee, set up in 1947, was published in 1950 and formed the basis for a Private Member's Bill introduced into the House of Commons in January, 1952, by Mr. Joseph Reeves, M.P., a member of the Council of the Society. After an unopposed first and second reading, it was unfortunately amended at the committee stage before receiving the Royal Assent on 26th June. Consequently the clause demanding that a crematorium should be at least 200 yards from a dwelling house was again inserted. However, private crematoria were now brought into line with municipal ones by the fact that all plans for building crematoria had to be approved by the Minister of Housing and Local Government. The categories of official persons who can countersign an application for cremation was also widened. The most controversial and vital issue, however, namely, the abolition of the Confirmatory Medical Certificate, was ducked at committee stage because of fierce opposition. The changes resulting from the Act, therefore, were modest, but by extending power to all local authorities, and not exclusively to burial authorities as before, the way to unlimited future expansion was thus cleared.
Within only five years of the passing of the Act the one hundredth crematorium had been opened at Salford on 14th January, 1957. Crematoria at Colwyn Bay, Birtley, New Southgate, South Essex, Craigton, Colchester, Nuneaton, Ruislip followed in the same year and twelve more were added in 1958. A pattern of a steady rate of increase of 2% every year had now emerged and, if this were maintained, equality in the number of disposals by cremation and by earth burial must be attained before 1970. These five years saw important and sad changes in the membership of the Council of the Society. The death of Lord Horder on 13th August, 1955, was a severe loss to the medical profession and public life in general and to the cremation movement in particular. The Society was fortunate, however, in having the Earl of Verulam as a successor. Dr. C. F. White, former M.O.H. of the City of London also resigned as Chairman of the Society, which then gained the parliamentary experience of Mr. Joseph Reeves, M.P. for Greenwich, in his place. There were also changes at international level. At the International Cremation Federation Congress at Zurich in 1957, Mr. P. Herbert Jones announced his intention of retiring from the office of Secretary-General which he had ably held for 21 years. In order that the International Federation might still benefit from his experience, however, he was invited to accept the office of Treasurer so as to remain a member of the Executive Committee. Mr. Nils Grufman, who, during the previous year had occupied the office of Treasurer in addition to acting as Assistant Secretary, was elected as successor to Mr. Herbert Jones, his appointment to commence from 1st January, 1959. Mr Grufman's considerable organising abilities and linguistic knowledge ensured the successful performance of his duties.
In 1959 a Jewish Scroll of Remembrance was unveiled at Golders Green Crematorium on 22nd November by the Rt. Hon. Emanuel Shinwell, M.P. The service of dedication preceding the unveiling was conducted by Rabbi J. J. Kokotek. In view of the growing practice of cremation on the part of members of the Reform and Liberal Synagogues, this unusual ceremony, the first of its kind in this country may prove to have far-reaching results in the future.
Another significant milestone in the history of the cremation movement was reached in 1961 when the first crematorium in Ireland was opened at Crossnacreevy, Belfast, on 10th May by the Lord Mayor. It is hoped that following this initial introduction of cremation to Ireland the idea will spread to other centres until gradually the wider acceptance of cremation will spread throughout the whole of the country.
The value of propaganda methods was proved in the establishment of the Belfast crematorium and the Society's continuing policy is to disseminate information and convert the population by means of pamphlets and booklets, such as, Facts About Cremation, What the Bishops Think, and Directory of British Crematoria. This literature is invaluable in presenting the true facts about cremation and ridding people of preconceived ideas preventing them adopting cremation. Several television and radio reports on cremation have also been extremely useful on a national scale.
The steady rate of growth from 1952-59 quickened into a period of rapid expansion form 1960 onwards. Thirty new crematoria were opened during 1960 and 1961 alone. In the succeeding years eleven were added in 1962, five in 1963, five in 1964, two in 1965, twelve in 1966, two in 1967 and four in 1968, including the two hundredth at Worthing.
In 1963, the leader of the Labour Party, Hugh Gaitskell, was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium. In 1965, Alderman Alfred Booth of Bolton (a vice-president of the Cremation Society) who had done invaluable work for the Society died. Somerset Maugham and Richard Dimbleby were among the other personalities to be cremated the same year, the ceremony for Richard Dimbleby especially receiving national publicity.
In 1963, Mr. Herbert Jones, founder and editor of Pharos for 34 years, retired from his office of General Secretary of the Cremation Society. He was succeeded by Mr. K. G. C. Prevette, who had been associated with Mr. Jones since 1935.
Fears of commercial speculation were expressed when a trading company, without any previous association with cremation, "took over" both Woking and Golders Green crematoria in 1958, but these fears were more than allayed by subsequent events. Not only were the traditions and standards of the crematoria maintained but considerable improvements, involving large capital expenditure, were made. However, such was the response of members of the Cremation Society to the offer by the Chairman, L. C. Holdings (the owners), to buy preference shares at par, that the Council of the Society realised the opportunity within its grasp and resolved, with the co-operation of the Golders Green Foundation Trust to use all available resources to purchase, quarter by quarter, the ordinary controlling shares. On 13th November, 19632, the final cheque was handed over and control of the company passed into the hands of the Cremation Society. Due to the immense loyalty of all the members of the Society, therefore, the two crematoria became free to continue their mission of public service in the tradition of their founders.
The International Cremation Federation had for many years fought for the repeal of the canons forbidding Roman Catholics to adopt cremation. The Federation appealed to all prelates to support its request at the Council of Churches in Rome and eventually in July 1963 the Pope proclaimed it legal within the Church to seek cremation without incurring the penalties hitherto attached to such action. Only if it were evident that cremation was being sought either as a denial of Christian teaching or out of hatred for the Catholic Church and the faith would the penalties still apply. However, it was not until 1966 that the ban on Roman Catholic priests conducting services in crematoria was lifted. The result of these two papal edicts was that by 1965 1,000 Roman Catholics had been cremated, all without the presence of a priest in the crematorium, and by 1966 2,350 Roman Catholic cremations had taken place, about 600 of which had had the ceremony performed by a priest in the actual crematorium. The Roman Catholic Church reaffirmed its approval of cremation by issuing its own order of service in 1967 which was officially circulated to cremation authorities by the Cremation Society. The election, with the consent of His Eminence, Cardinal Heenan, of the Rev. John F. McDonald to the Council of the Cremation Society in 1965 was another significant step towards complete Roman Catholic acceptance of cremation.
Unfortunately Sir John Cameron, Bt., President of the Cremation Society from 1960 until his death on 4th October, 1968, did not live to see his prediction of equality before 1970 proved true. Highly intelligent, loyal and considerate, he created a feeling of confidence among his friends and colleagues.
Mr Joseph Reeves, who became President-elect on Sir John's death, did not long survive him. His sad and sudden death on 8th March, 1969, meant that the Cremation Society had lost yet another extremely loyal and active member of the Council. Both these men were as popular and respected abroad as in this country. Sir John, who was a Vice-President of the International Cremation Federation, many times represented Great Britain at International Cremation Congresses and Mr. Reeves was a former Honorary Treasurer and Past-President of the International Cremation Federation. For this reason their absence at the 1969 International Cremation Congress in London was particularly sad.
This is only the second time the congress has been held in London and the patronage of His Royal Highness the Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, helped to make it even more memorable. The International Cremation Congress, however, seemed ill-fated indeed as the death of the International Cremation Federation president himself, Dr Franz Michelfeit of Vienna, on 27th December, 1968 was another serious blow to the international cremation movement.
During 1967 and 1968 the Cremation Society also mourned for two Vice-Presidents. Dame Helen Gwynne-Vaughan, C.B.E., LL.D., was cremated at Brighton (Municipal) Crematorium on 31st August, 1967. A Vice-President from the time she joined the movement in 1946, she was a professor of botany at the University of London but is perhaps best remembered for her work with the Women's Services of the Army and Royal Air Force.
Another vice-president, Mr. Michael Waldo Boone Bulman, M.D., M.S., M.B., F.R.C.S., a former Lord Mayor of the City of Norwich and for many years senior consultant in gynaecology at Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, died on 29th November, 1968, at the age of 70. A founder of Norwich Crematorium at Horsham St. Faith in 1935, he remained its Chairman until his death and was always a loyal supporter of the Cremation Society.
Although a Working Party had been appointed in 1959, the evidence it put before the Home Secretary seemed in the main to have been unfortunately shelved as the new regulations, which suddenly became operative on 1st January, 1965, only ten days after being put to Parliament, made rather piecemeal and inadequate revisions to the existing regulations. The major change concerned Form A (application for a cremation) which could now be verified by any householder to whom the applicant was known. Also Regulation 7 revoked the provisions which had made it unlawful to cremate a person who had left instructions to the contrary. The decision whether to cremate a person or not was now left entirely to the discretion of the next-of-kin.
A special committee, known as the The Committee on Death Certification and Coroners, was set up on 17th March, 1965 under the chairmanship of Mr. (now Judge) Norman Brodrick, Q.C. Mr. G. I. deDeney was appointed the Secretary.
The members of the committee were Professor Sir Melville Arnott, Mr. R. M. Bingham, Lady Dyer, Dr. D. L. Kerr, Colonel P. H. Lloyd, Dr. G. R. Osborn, Sir Douglas Osmond and Mr. L. Rosen. In May, 1986, Mr. deDeney was succeeded as secretary by Mr A. P. Wilson.
One of the main reasons for the appointment of the Brodrick Committee was that in 1964 the British Medical Association (BMA) published a report entitled Deaths in the Community which argued that the existing law failed to ensure that causes of death were established with sufficient accuracy and it hinted that, in consequence of the deficiencies in the existing law, homicides might go undetected. The Brodrick Committee's enquiries firmly convinced them that the attitude in the B.M.A. Report was unduly alarmist.
The terms of reference of the Brodrick Committee were to review:
(a) the law and practice relating to the issue of medical certificates of the cause of death and for the disposal of dead bodies, and
(b) the law and practice relating to coroners and coroners courts, the reporting of deaths to the coroner, and related matters; and to recommend what changes are desirable.
Evidence on behalf of the cremation movement was given by Dr. W. A. Parker and Dr. J. Stevenson Logan (Association of Crematorium Medical Referees); Mr. H. D. E. Carter and Mr. K. G. C. Prevette (The Cremation Society); Mr. A. C. McMillan, Mr. L. J. Evans and Mr. H. G. Garrett (Federation of British Cremation Authorities); Mr. Evans and Mr. Garrett also represented The Institute of Burial and Cremation Administration; Mr. E. E. Field and Mr. G. C. Scott (Proprietary Crematoria and Cemeteries Association).
The Brodrick Committee's findings were published on Wednesday, 10th November, 1971, having received written evidence from 96 organisations; oral evidence from 73 people; and having held 70 full committee meetings and a further 25 sub-committee meetings.
The committee concluded that:
1. Improvements in the procedure for certifying the causes of all deaths (recommended in Part I of the Report) should mean that FURTHER safeguards applying ONLY to cremation will be UNNECESSARY.
2. Accordingly, the present system of medical certification applying only to cremation should be ABOLISHED. The Committee considers that it gives only an illusion of security against a threat which it believes to be VIRTUALLY NON-EXISTENT.
3. Statutory Forms "A", "B", "C" and "F" should be ABOLISHED; only Form "G" (the register) should be retained.
If legislation is delayed, Form "C" should be ABOLISHED at an early date.
4. The office of Medical Referee should DISAPPEAR.
5. In future, a certificate for disposal issued by a registrar of deaths, or by a coroner if an inquest has been held, SHOULD BE SUFFICIENT AUTHORITY for disposal either by BURIAL OR CREMATION.
All cremationists agree that the Brodrick Report was very well worth waiting for; its recommendations are more than we dared hope for; their adoption our sincere wish. There is, however, still a very long way to go before the recommendations are fully discussed in Parliament let alone become law.
Nevertheless, the Cremation Society formed a special sub-committee to consider the implications of the Report and resolves as follows:
"That the Society, which is representative not only of those who manage crematoria but of the public at large for whom the service is provided, welcomes and approves of the recommendations contained in the Brodrick Report. Of such recommendations, the Society attaches the greatest importance to the proposals for the simplification of the registration procedure leading up to the disposal of dead bodies. For many reasons, not the least of which is the need to relieve the public at large of unnecessary expense, it is essential that, as soon as possible, the present outdated, complicated and, for the reasons adopted by the Committee, useless requirements are replaced by the introduction of the new form of death certificate which will be identical whether disposal is by cremation or by earth burial.
It is the view of the Society that this change should be given priority over all the other alterations referred to in the Report."
Despite the widespread adoption of cremation by the masses of the people in Great Britain it is evident that the Cremation Society has still much to do, not only in watching the public's interests in the maintaining of standards, but also in recommending changes which will be beneficial to all.
In 1973 a former General Secretary of the Cremation Society died. He was Mr. P. Herbert Jones who had served the Society form 1937 until 1963 when he retired to become Chairman of the London Cremation Company.
In July 1973 the Cremation Society sold its freehold London office at 47 Nottingham Place, W.1, and moved to Kent where it had been fortunate enough to buy a small stately home situated in six acres of beautiful gardens, known as Woodcut House.
On 12th March 1974 Mr. George Alfred Noble died at his home in Woolwich. He was 97. Mr. Noble was probably the last surviving link with the Society's founder, Sir Henry Thompson, who had personally interviewed Mr. Noble in May 1900 when he had applied for the post of the Society's first full-time Secretary. Mr. Noble was duly appointed on 18th May 1900 and continued in office until 1937 when he handed over to Mr. P. Herbert Jones.
On 13th January 1974 the Cremation Society became one hundred years of age. Celebration of the centenary was postponed until July so as to coincide with the Society's annual conference. During the centenary celebrations the Society's new headquarters, Woodcut House, were officially opened by the President, The Rt. Hon. the Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, P.C., J.P., who unveiled a plaque in front of 240 delegates representing cremation authorities from fifteen countries.
Although the Society had been founded in the name of The Cremation Society of England this, subsequently, had been amended to The Cremation Society upon the request of the Edinburgh Crematorium who had requested the alteration in order that they might be allowed to join the Society.
With the lifting of the ban by the Roman Catholic Church cremation spread more rapidly in overseas countries and it was therefore felt to be to the Society's advantage to be more closely identified as a national organisation. To this end on 11th December 1973 at an Extraordinary General Meeting held at The Great Danes Hotel, Hollingbourne, Maidstone, the Society's name was changed to The Cremation Society of Great Britain. The change was officially registered on 29th March 1974.