Death in London
Over the course of the 20th century, death rates in London shrank, thanks to advances in medical science, improved diet, and better access to healthcare.
By the end of the 20th century, the most usual causes of death for Londoners were circulatory or heart diseases (an average of 48,790 people a year); respiratory diseases, including the effects of air pollution (17,920 people); and cancer (33,880 people). Other causes of death included injury or food poisoning (3,920 people a year).
Before mass vaccination programmes, epidemics of the traditional urban diseases killed many Londoners. In 1902, 2,319 Londoners died from measles: 2,209 of these were children under five. During 191819, 18,000 Londoners died in a worldwide influenza pandemic. Smallpox, diphtheria, and air pollution continued to kill. In 1952, 4,000 Londoners died from respiratory diseases caused by smog.
Disposal of the dead was also an issue for 20th-century London. Most of Londons 147 cemeteries date from the 19th century. Only 11 new cemeteries were created after 1940, partly due to the increase in cremations. Before 1950, only 4% of disposals in London were cremations, but by the end of the century, the proportion had increased to 71%.
In the 1980s, despite the popularity of cremations, councils realised they were running out of burial space. Victorian cemeteries were full and demand for designated burial space was increasing because of Londons new multi-faith population.
Cremation suited the religions of some of Londons new communities (90% of Hindu deaths and 84% of Sikh deaths in London are followed by cremations). The four main religious groups in London that require burial space are the Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Roman Catholic communities.
New strategies for increasing available burial space in London included dedicating new space as cemeteries and re-using graves.
London's cemeteries include:
Abney Park garden cemetery opened in 1840 as a burial site for local non-conformists.
Brompton cemetery, opened in 1840. Famous graves include those of suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst and the American Sioux Indian Chief, Long Wolf, who was buried at Brompton on 13 June 1892.
Highgate Cemetery West & East, the burial place of social scientist Karl Marx, author George Eliot, scientist Michael Faraday and Alfred Foyle, founder of the Charing Cross Road bookshop.
Kensal Green cemetery, a 79-acre site housing over 250,000 graves including those of engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, writer William Makepeace Thackeray and Niagara tightrope-walker Blondin.
Tower Hamlets cemetery: over 247,000 bodies were interred here by 1900. During the Second World War the cemetery was heavily bombed and many memorials were damaged.
West Norwood cemetery opened in 1836 as the South Metropolitan cemetery. During the 20th century, the site was neglected until it was taken over by the council in 1960. Controversially, the council began a lawn clearance programme removing 10,000 memorials.
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