But there were limits as to how many corpses could be crammed in, particularly when the 19th century saw such a massive increase in the population. Churchyards were so full that bodies began spilling out from their shallow graves into the public gaze. Something had to be done.
As was often the case in the 19th century, the answer came from the provinces. Prosperous Nonconformist industrialists not wanting to be buried in Anglican plots of land were the driving force behind the establishment of the Necropolis in Glasgow in 1832 and Woodhouse Cemetery in Leeds three years later.
Private joint-stock companies soon realised that money could be made from death. Commercial companies started to lay out cemeteries on the outskirts of cities, charging fees for each burial depending on its lavishness.
The most famous of these private cemeteries were perhaps the "magnificent seven" (Highgate, Nunhead, Norwood, Kensal Green, Brompton, Abney Park and Tower Hamlets), built on the then fringes of London in the 1830s and 1840s, but other cities quickly followed their lead.
One of the finest was and is the 25-acre Undercliffe Cemetery in Bradford, reached today only after a steep climb from the centre, but worth it if only for the view back over the city. Opened in 1854, many of its extravagant structures commemorate wool barons and local worthies among the 23,000 other graves.
The 20th century proved less profitable and the Bradford Cemetery Company went bust in the 1970s. Developers cast greedy eyes on this prime site.
Fortunately, it was declared a conservation area in 1984 and is now tended by a small and devoted band of workers led by Ann and Colin Clark. Their labours allow us to walk through Undercliffe and experience the Victorian age at its most varied and extravagant. An informative heritage trail is full of interest.
My favourite spot is the memorial to Squire Pollard, an enthusiastic cricketer who died in 1867, but who is remembered by an epitaph which includes a bat, ball and stumps.
I'll bet that Geoffrey Boycott is planning something similar.
Undercliffe Cemetery is in Undercliffe Lane, Bradford, West Yorkshire BD3 OQD. For heritage trails, contact the above address.Reuse content