Secularization of Death in Scotland, 1815-1900: How the Funeral Industry Displaced the Church as Custodian of the Dead (a Study of Private Cemeteries, Public Crematoria, and Bereavement Practices in Edinburgh)

Author: Smith, Michael
Year:2015
Pages:360
ISBN:0-7734-3521-2
978-0-7734-3521-6
Price:239.95
Death is one of the few constants of human experience. It is a fact of life that binds humanity. Despite its familiarity, the rituals, customs, and attitudes relating to it are ever-changing, always reflecting the hopes, fears, and ambitions of living society. This book considers how death practices were transformed during the nineteenth century. Using Edinburgh as a backdrop, it covers a range of issues relating to death, from changing expectations at the graveside to changing attitudes toward the afterlife. The nineteenth century was a formative period. Here, we witness the foundations being laid for many of the features that we take for granted in the early twenty-first century.

A rapidly changing society saw death become a statistical issue, a public health issue, an event where professional practitioners become increasingly important in terms of how the vent was handled. Yet institutional change would be only one of a number of dynamic forces that were shaping the manner in which people met their end. An increasingly capitalist economy meant that death would become big business. This in turn would transform how the funeral and the expression of grief, would be performed. But it is never a one-way process, and change does not always filter down from an institutional level. Any change in death culture reflects a number of processes, some of which are obvious, and some given the private nature of loss, which are ultimately inscrutable.

Reviews

“This study provides a new perspective upon the development of Scotland’s capital and the lives, attitudes and customs of its people in the nineteenth century…What Smith has achieved is to untangle the various threads by which undertakers in Edinburgh acquired so much power, suddenly and so swiftly, in a context of urbanisation, commercialism and secularization. It will become the book by which all future histories of death in modern Scotland will first be judged and to which all such histories will have to refer.”
-Rev. Dr. Peter Creffield Jupp,
Honorary Fellow,
Divinity Dept., University Edinburgh


“This book addresses a gap in the existing historiography. It explores the personal and public experience of bereavement in Edinburgh during a period of rapid social and cultural change in the nineteenth century. This original piece of research will be of interest not only to specialists in death studies, but also to historians of modern Scotland.”
–Professor E.W. McFarland,
Professor of History,
Glasgow Caledonian University


Table of Contents

Foreword
Acknowledgements
Introduction
CHAPTER ONE: EDINBURGH - LIVING AND DYING IN A SCOTTISH CITY
A City Transformed
Social Composition
Mortality and Civic Intervention
City of Ideas
Edinburgh and Faith
Conclusion
CHAPTER TWO: THE KIRK AND THE FUNERAL INDUSTRY
The Physical Assets
Mortcloths
Performing the Funeral
Going to the grave
Conclusion
CHAPTER THREE: THE KIRK AND THE BURDEN OF DEATH
Kirk Benevolence
The Anatomy Act, 1832
The Kirk and Dissection
Working Class Safeguards
Conclusion
CHAPTER FOUR: CHALLENGING THE KIRK: THE CEMETERY COMPANIES AND THE STATE
Counting the Dead
Commercial Competition
Government Intrusion
The Grace as Property
Conclusion
CHAPTER FIVE: ‘THE DOCTORS OF GRIEF’: FUNERAL UNDERTAKING IN NINETEENTH-CENTURY EDINBURGH
Early beginnings
Undertaking Growth
Undertaking as Speciality
The Appropriation of Tradition
Conclusion
CHAPTER SIX: THE PUBLIC FACE OF DEATH
Identity and Authority
Belief and Ritual
Conclusion
CHAPTER SEVEN: PATTERNS OF MOURNING
Religious Comfort
Mapping Heaven
Secular Expressions
Memorials
Children
Women
Conclusion
CONCLUSION
BIBLIOGRAPHY
INDEX