Easing the English way of death

The English way of death is becoming more Victorian. Yesterday 5,000 people went to Europe's largest working cemetery, in London, for coach rides and a look at the inside of crematoria, writes Glenda Cooper.

Billing it as a "unique day" to "dispel the misconceptions surrounding funerals", the Corporation of London opened all of the 200-acre London Cemetery and Crematorium. Visitors could have a coach ride round the site, opened in 1856, to see the graves of Dame Anna Neagle and two of Jack the Ripper's victims. Otherwise, there was an ecological company selling cardboard coffins, memorial masons and funeral directors explaining the merits of pre-paid funerals. Crematorium technicians were on hand to explain why it is impossible to get the wrong ashes. Nearly 70 per cent of those who die are now cremated.

Stan Cribb of T Cribb & Sons said that demand for horse-drawn hearses - pounds 700 extra - had doubled in the last year. "I think people are wanting a more dignified approach. There is a return to the Victorian way of thinking," he said.

A wide range of people attended, mostly out of curiosity. "My wife was cremated here three months ago," said William Hill. "I wanted to see everything had been done right."

"I think it is good that people don't shy away from the subject. It's ever so interesting," added Lilian Gillett.

Jon Luby, superintendent of the cemetery, was philosophical. "The image of death has been trivialised by the media. It's something we all have to face."