Highgate to start reusing burial plots in London

London’s shortage of burial plots is an issue the city has been grappling with for some time, and now there’s a solution – reusing plots, as reported in The Economist.

‘Grave recycling’ is now possible thanks to an act of Parliament earlier this year that applies to what is arguably London’s most famous cemetery, Highgate. Other London cemeteries have been doing this for some time but reusing graves at Highgate is prestigious thanks to its famous residents, Karl Marx being one of them.

Speaking to the Economist, Ian Dungavell, the head of the Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust, said that plot 18946 – two metres long and under a metre wide – is the one opposite Karl Marx and may therefore be able to command a premium price.

Advance warning

The stipulations for grave recycling are that the last burial at the plot needs to have taken place at least 75 years beforehand, and that advance warning of potential reuse must be given to the public via cemetery notices and in newspapers.

The plot’s previous inhabitants will be either left in place, interred deeper or moved elsewhere. At present, a fresh burial plot in London can cost as much as £10,000 to £23,000, whereas the coyly termed heritage grave is much cheaper.

The Economist article describes London as “part metropolis, part necropolis”, a city known to have been built on bones. In Victorian times, its parish graveyards were so full, mourners needed to stand on boards to stop them treading on decomposing human body parts.

Graveyards already full

The shortage of grave spaces, while a nationwide problem, is particularly bad in the capital city with its huge population. An audit carried out in 2011 found that many grave sites in London boroughs were already full.

While cremation has worked in part to deal with the problem – with some 78 percent of Britons choosing this for their death – there are still plenty of people who have religious objections to cremation.

Grave recycling is not new. When the 17th century diarist Samuel Pepys went to pick a spot for his brother’s grave, the gravedigger offered to “jostle” along the other corpses that were not quite rotten to make room for the body. The Economist says it is more accurate to think of graveyards as “a sort of subterranean bone broth that was occasionally stirred, and then garnished with gravestones”.

Cholera epidemic

The reuse of graves lost popularity in the 19th century, when there was a change in the law that was designed to prevent overcrowding and likely due to the cholera epidemic, later resulting in the great Victorian graveyard boom.

Highgate plots will start to be reused next year, though historically significant graves such as Marx’s will not be disturbed.


How would you feel about ‘sharing plots’? Let us know your thoughts over on social; @FindersProbate

To find out more information on Finders International’s services click here. Alternatively, you can contact our team via email on [email protected] or telephone: +44 (0) 20 7490 4935