The birth of the Cremation Society

The great nineteenth century Liberal Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone said that the manner in which we dispose of the dead provides an inclination as to how evolved a civilization has become. Our evolutionary trail has led us to favour state of the art technology in cremation processes over burial, but how did we get here?

From the time of earliest man, an attempt to provide a degree of ceremony and care in the disposal of the dead has been evidenced and with the passage of time funeral rites have become increasingly ceremonial in execution, however until the late 19th Century burial was the only option.

The Industrial Revolution in Britain led to urban population growth with overwhelming unsanitary overcrowding in burgeoning Industrial towns and cities. Many places like Glasgow succumbed to outbreaks of cholera, typhoid, dysentery and scarlet fever. Churchyards simply couldn’t adequately cope with the increasing death rate and an alternative and more hygienic manner in which to dispose of the dead was sought.

Sir Henry Thompson 1st Baronet and then Royal Surgeon, is considered by many people to be the founding father of the British Cremation Society having advocated and petitioned for the legal restrictions on cremation to be removed thus enabling Britain’s first crematorium to be opened in Woking in 1885 . Public opinion to make the transition from traditional burial practises to cremation progressed slowly.

Glasgow Crematorium was opened in 1895 and is the first crematorium to be built in Scotland.

It was designed by Glasgow architect James Chalmers an associate of Alexander (Greek) Thomson in 1893 and was built in Gothic Revival style to appeal to Victorian sensibilities and the influential Kirk. It was constructed in traditional red Scottish sandstone locally quarried and internally boasts rare marble pillars, and other fine architectural features as in eaves cornicing, dogtooth relief, a beautiful vaulted ceiling in the Old Chapel, a unique internal columbarium tower for the containment of some 3000 urns and caskets of ashes as well as windows which boast some of the finest examples of stained glass in Scotland.

Glasgow Crematorium notwithstanding it’s unique position within the history of cremation in Scotland, was awarded Category B Listed status by Historic Scotland in 1992 for being a building of architectural/historic interest.

The first cremation undertaken at Glasgow Crematorium on 17th April 1895 was that of a sheep, in doing so the Society was able to prove the effectiveness and hygienic nature of the cremation process. Acceptance of the new mode of funeral was slow in Scotland, it took 10 years to reach 191 cremations; currently we perform close to 1700 service annually.

The Old Chapel initially contained no seating, and mourners would stand throughout the committal service similar to attendance at a graveside, just as the preferred mechanism for committal was one of lowering comparable again to traditional burial practices.

Pews were installed for public comfort in 1953 to accommodate 100 , a second New Chapel providing seating for 50 was built in 1954. The building underwent an extensive programme of modernisation in the mid 1980’s and as so often happens history is repeating itself as the crematorium is in the process of refurbishment works once more with recently installed new mercury abated cremation plant, a disabled persons access lift, new office accommodation, a meeting/training room, new tea preparation area and shower and toilet facility upgrades.

Further improvements in the form of extensive CCTV and external lighting works for security purposes have just been completed. Also it is anticipated that additional landscaping to the Garden of Reflection and improved waiting room facilities will also be provided in coming months as well as other works to ensure that Glasgow Crematorium provides the very best client experience at what can be the worst possible time for mourners

The Scottish Cremation Society is dedicated to promoting cremation over burial as a more hygienic and cost effective method of funeral leaving a dwindling land resource to be enjoyed by the living.