Council may have to exhume remains from the graves of Victorian paupers

The unmarked graves, which are not on consecrated ground, belong to people who died between 1873 and 1928, and who were interred at Tunbridge Wells Cemetery in Benhall Mill Road.

The council-owned cemetery is also home to the council’s parks contractor’s storage depot, which may have to be replaced.

While the plans have not been finalised, with the council still considering the best use of the land around the depot, they have posted a public notice of their possible intention.

A spokesperson for the council said if the bodies of the eight males and seven females do have to be removed, they will try to track down any living relatives and tell them of their intention, although most of the graves date back to the 19th century so tracking down any descendants may prove difficult.

A spokesperson said: “The new depot will only use part of the existing site and therefore the Council as landowner will seek planning permission for alternative use of the remaining site.

“It is not unusual for graves to be moved in this way and there is a legal procedure which we are following including giving public notice. 

“We will ensure that all found remains are treated with dignity and we plan to reinter them in another part of the cemetery and ensure they are suitably and respectfully marked.”


A pauper’s funeral

THE term ‘pauper’s funeral’ has been around since the inception of the Poor Law in 1834, an act that introduced workhouses to Britain.

For those unfortunate to die during Victorian Britain without any money, a funeral was paid for under the Poor law if that person had been staying in a workhouse.

The policy provided for only a basic burial, so those that were given a pauper’s funeral did not have a headstone or even their own grave, as many paupers often piled up on one another in the same plot.

Today, the term is still used to describe a ‘public health funeral’, which is a basic burial paid for by the local authority when funeral arrangements cannot be made by the family of the deceased.

Local authorities pay for the expenses of around 4,000 burials in the country every year.

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