Further to my question here, I am attempting to continue to research the wider family of the individual memorialised by a gravestone in St Bridget's Church, near Cockermouth. This church, and the attached graveyard, belong to the established Church of England; that is to say the conformist tradition.

However, from my research, I have determined that the individual and his family belonged to the nonconformist tradition. As far as I am aware, individuals could only be buried in a C of E graveyard without the conformist rites of that Church after the passage of the Burial Laws Amendment Act 1880. This seems to present a contradiction.

How could an adherent to the non-conformist tradition have been buried in a conformist graveyard prior to the passage of this Act?

  • Not sure what you're asking. What exactly do you mean by "how"? Like mechanically, by digging a hole and putting the casket in it? Or "how" culturally? Presumably if they felt the need to pass a law banning it, then it was going on prior to the law passing.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 14:49
  • 1
    @T.E.D. culturally - the law allowed it rather than banning it, indicating to me that it was banned prior, but the gravestone appears before the passage of the law allowing it.
    – CDJB
    Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 14:53
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    Ahhh. Well in that case my assumption would be that some priests were refusing to do it, and thus the need for the law.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 15:00
  • 2
    Not sure, but remember reading that Roman Catholics often technically passed the Test Acts - they married in CofE churches because they there was no alternative. Maybe something similar with non-conformists?
    – TheHonRose
    Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 15:01
  • @T.E.D. as far as I understand the law though, it still allowed ministers to refuse the burial:- "after receiving such notice no rector, vicar, incumbent, or officiating minister shall be liable to any censure or penalty, ecclesiastical or civil, for permitting any such burial as aforesaid"... I'm not 100% sure though, hence the question :)
    – CDJB
    Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 15:01

1 Answer 1


The answer seems to be that it was not explicitly prohibited before 1880; the key phrase is "without the conformist rites of that Church", so before 1880 they simply had to choose to accept the Anglican burial service or get buried elsewhere. Per these notes:

Thus common law conferred on the parishioner the right both to burial and to a burial service. The only distinction was that the work was divided between two different ecclesiastical persons. However, it was not possible to choose burial but reject a burial service (or vice versa). Canon 68 of 1603 made clear that burial and the burial service had to be performed together. [...]

The inseparability of the burial from the Anglican burial rite caused friction between the Established Church and other denominations, who wished to bury their departed adherents according to their own rites. [...]

The Burial Laws Amendment Act 1880 eased the sectarian tensions by permitting burial of non-Anglicans in a churchyard ‘either without any religious service, or with [a] Christian and orderly service at the grave’ (s.6).

So someone could be buried in an Anglican churchyard pre-1880 as long as they were willing to accept it being done with an Anglican burial service, and the Anglican church seems to have been required to carry that out.

This note (from Northamptonshire) suggests it varied a bit by denomination - Quakers and Baptists might be more likely to have their own burial grounds than Methodists - but presumably that also varied depending on how large or wealthy the specific local nonconformist communities were, as well as on more individual factors like how committed the deceased (or their family) were. Some people presumably minded more than others!

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