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I hope you find reading this article useful

Thank you, SW Barratt

Old stone cross in grass

How do Old Funerals Compare Today?

Published: March 20, 2024

Funerals are a part of life. They mean the change from one stage of life to another. And they also serve as a reminder of our mortality. An old funeral in the late 1800s and early 1900s was quite an elaborate affair. The deceased were dressed in their finest clothes, and placed in an open coffin in the family house for friends and family to pay their respects before burial. The funeral procession would often include horses and carriages. 

Sir Henry Thompson in 1882

Sir Henry Thompson in 1882

Things started to change when the Cremation Society was formed in London in 1874 by Sir Henry Thompson, but cremations were not made legal until 1902 . Much opposition was still against cremation in England from the mainly Christian faith. This continued until around the time of the first 1914 -1918 world war.

Interestingly cremations formed about 5% of funerals in 1930 when new regulations came into force, and are still mainly in force today. At present around 75% of UK funerals are cremations. In 1963 the Pope removed the ban on Roman Catholics wanting a cremation. This made a major increase to the number of cremations. It was only a few years later in 1968 that cremations then exceeded burials, which has remained the case today.

Today, funerals are simpler affairs compared to a previous old funeral. More people want to conduct inexpensive funeral services, due to funeral costs often being expensive. For many the primary goal is a low-cost funeral.

Funerals today are often less extravagant than those of yesteryear.  Most believe that this is due to do with how most view death, and the lack of such strong Christian values as our predecessors.

In past decades, people believed that your soul went straight into Heaven without suffering any ill effects when you die. Therefore, there was little need to prepare the body for burial. This is one reason why modern funerals are sometimes considered more low-key.

Modern embalming is the process used to preserve the deceased. Embalming which is now commonly used was not developed until the late 18th Century by Surgeon William Hunter. Prior to this the deceased was buried within a short period to prevent obvious unpleasant decay.

In more modern times cremations are generally chosen if the deceased did not want to be buried. Likewise, cremations are cheaper, quicker, cleaner, and often more favoured.

Some people choose not to perform religious services before families lay the bodies to rest. Instead, they opt to have a memorial service afterwards. The purpose of these memorial services would be to honour the lives of the loved ones who passed away and pay respect to their memory.

Old Funerals & death causes 100 years ago

Nowadays, we know a lot about what causes us to die. Many diseases are preventable by modern medicines. Unfortunately,100 years ago medicine wasn’t nearly as advanced as it is today. 

As such, many illnesses killed us long before our bodies stopped working correctly. Diseases like Tuberculosis, often referred to as TB or consumption, claimed many people. Heart disease also claims many every year.

A century ago, the average lifespan in the United Kingdom was just less than 50 years old, whereas today it is 81. People died at an alarming rate compared to today. Deaths at home 100 years ago for poor people often resulted in them burying their loved one on their land or local woodland. These days regulations/laws and sometimes permission has to be sought for home burials or natural woodland burials.

Childhood deaths were commonplace, if you did make it through adulthood; the odds were high that your life expectancy would drop soon after. Only 1 out of 3 individuals lived beyond their 60th birthday. Unfortunately, poor sanitation and living conditions did not help. Hospital stays were difficult for anyone but the wealthiest people.

Instead, poor people often visited ‘Quack’ doctors instead of seeking proper medical attention. Even worse, some physicians refused to treat certain people, including pregnant women, prostitutes, enslaved people, and convicts, because doing so would bring down the profession’s reputation. In addition, physicians were largely unregulated in the UK, which meant anything labelled “Doctor” was really any licensed person.

The preferred disposition for both old and modern funerals


Going back 100 + years to an old funeral, your choices were, burial, or entombment. People didn’t really think much about what method was best. Instead, they focused on making sure that their souls went somewhere to which their religion was based after they died.

As already mentioned, cremation is now the most popular funeral in the UK. One of the main reasons is that this is far cheaper than a burial.

Which should I choose? cremation or burial

Coffin with red Roses

When it comes down to choosing between cremation and burial, each method has pros and cons. If you don’t plan ahead, you could choose poorly and regret your decision later. some additional advantages of a burial:

  • You can control where and how your loved one is laid to rest
  • You don’t have to incur costs for transportation to the cemetery – if a home burial
  • Your family members can visit and leave flowers on your grave 
  • You can choose a memorial/headstone

Whether cremation or burial, the choice depends mainly on the personal preferences of the deceased, and the finances available.

Funeral plans today

People are generally concerned about how to pay for a funeral, and focus on organising the cheapest possible funeral. In most cases, it’s better to save than spend. Therefore, a pre-paid funeral plan covers in most cases all the funeral costs. Funeral plans serve around 20% of the funeral market and offer several benefits, including:

  • An advance payment gives you peace of mind
  • You avoid any surprises like unexpected rising insurance premiums
  • You can prepare for your own funeral without affecting anyone else
  • The whole process is organised; thus, saving you both money and stress
  • Funeral plans allow you to focus on other important issues rather than spending your valuable time dealing with financial matters about death.


Over the years cremation has become far more acceptable and more main stream than it was for old funerals. Improved embalming methods have helped preserve a body.

Modern day funeral plans can help pay for a funeral in advance. Make sure you discuss your wishes with your partner and children. Even if you’ve discussed them previously, they might not remember everything. It’s best to get this information written down so that everyone knows what you believe in and expect.

It is helpful to write a will and  establish upon whom you wish to be the beneficiary of your estate. Your heirs will receive a share based on intestate succession laws if you do nothing.

If you would like to learn more about locating low-cost funerals, low-cost headstones, natural burials, DIY funerals, free financial help from the Government and charities as well as bereavement support, then please visit Save Funeral Costs™

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SW Barratt
Founder: SW Barratt

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