Durham Crematorium holds a special place in the history and development of cremation in Britain. Find out more about Durham Crematorium and its history:
On 4 August 1960, the first cremation took place at the then new Durham Crematorium, which had been built at a cost of £60,000.00.
Almost 50 years later, it is my privilege to chair the Central Durham Crematorium Joint Committee that has been responsible for the operation of Durham Crematorium since its inception. The Central Durham Crematorium Joint Committee has always striven to provide the highest standards of operation, the best levels of service to the bereaved, and to maintain the grounds to a high standard.
There have been many challenges along the way with new legislation often being the trigger for improvement and so it is once more as the Committee has recently approved a £2.3 million scheme to install new cremators and Mercury Abatement Plant together with improvements to the roadways and the provision of a new and larger car park. The works will commence early in 2011 and will be completed in time to meet tough new Emission Regulation before the end of 2012. This will be a challenging time as the Crematorium will continue to operate as normal during these works and every effort will be made to ensure that there is as little disruption as possible to the bereaved, Funeral Directors, clergy and funeral celebrants. These works will ensure that once again Durham Crematorium will have the very latest efficient and clean cremators, and the best facilities to meet the challenges of the next 50 years.
Councillor Maria Plews
Chairman of the Central Durham Crematorium Joint Committee
Durham Crematorium holds a special place in the history and development of cremation in Britain. Its distinction is threefold.
Firstly, it was the fifth and final crematorium to be designed by Norwich architect J.P. Chaplin ARIBA, who remains the only architect to have said to have specialised in this essentially twentieth century building type, having built Norwich (1937), Cambridge (1938) Northampton (1939) and Peterborough (1958) crematoria. It was clear that the Joint Committee formed to build the crematorium had ambitions to achieve the best possible design. Had Chaplin turned down the commission, they intended to approach H.R.W. Orr, the only other experienced architect in the field.
Secondly, Chaplin believed that a crematorium belonged to those who commissioned the project and not to the architect. The architectural expression of both the exterior and interior detailing reference the nearby castle and cathedral respectively; the use of local stone and the choice of subject matter for the decorative schemes all combine to create a building which reflects the region.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, it has succeeded in fulfilling Chaplin’s intention of providing a building that might become a significant and meaningful part of the fabric of the communities which it was intended to serve. Durham Crematorium is linked to those communities by something much stronger than its utilitarian purpose. It offers not only a beautiful natural landscape within which to remember the dead, but has, over time, emerged as a piece of regional history and culture. As such, Durham Crematorium occupies a well-deserved and dignified place in the life of the region.
Professor Hilary J. Grainger
The Crematorium has had a strong link with art since it was completed in 1960. The architect Percival J. Chaplin used a number of artworks within his building, notably a Dove of Peace on the wall by the exit doorway, extensive use of etched glass, and the highly decorative screen separating the chapel from the Book of Remembrance room which uses a number of different types of glass.
A decorative sculpture representing a Stairway to Heaven was donated anonymously in the mid-1980s.
Spirit of Hope
In September 2004, a local retired teacher and artist, Adrian Pearce, contacted the Crematorium Registrar to ask if there was any possibility of a large sculpture of an angel being relocated to a suitable position within the Crematorium grounds.
In 1972, Adrian Pearce was commissioned to create a sculpture of an Angel for The Mission to Seamen at Wilton on Teesside. The Sculpture was cold-cast and formed the focal point of the building until it was closed. The impressive work of art was then moved to The Seafarers Mission in Hull, where it proudly remained until that building too closed early in 2004. The sculpture was after 32 years returned to Adrian Pearce and hence his quest to find a new and permanent home for his wonderful artwork. The agreement was reached and arrangements were made by the Crematorium Registrar to have the sculpture – to be known as The Spirit of Hope – restored to its original condition. This work was carried out by a local Durham Company, Merlin Coachworks Ltd.
The Spirit of Hope was installed on a wall overlooking the Crematorium Gardens of Remembrance on 5 May 2005. The sculpture has been very well received by visitors to the Crematorium with the message of its name inspiring those who come across it on a visit to the Crematorium.
Sadly, Adrian Pearce died on 1 February 2007, but his work of art will remain as a permanent tribute to his memory.
The Reverend Tom Thubron
In the Crematorium Chapel can be seen, high on the wall which faces the altar, a large original acrylic painting entitled Enlightenment from Darkness into Light, painted and donated in 2006 after a period in an exhibition. This vibrant and striking work of art was painted for the Crematorium having been commissioned by the Registrar from the artist, Tom Thubron.
The Reverend Tom Thubron was vicar at St Giles Church, Gilesgate until his retirement in 1998. Tom, who has many talents, enrolled on an arts degree course at Sunderland University and was pleased to be able to produce this iconic painting which he very generously donated to the Crematorium. Tom has also painted in 2007, a series of five acrylic paintings – called Reflections – especially for the waiting room where they are proudly displayed as well as a series of three larger acrylic paintings which are to be found in the exit foyer of the Crematorium (2008). All of Tom’s works have been widely admired and Tom himself is a regular visitor to the Crematorium.
The idea of a Crematorium for Durham was first suggested by local clergy in 1953, who noted that the practice of cremation was becoming more popular and was concerned that people from Durham had to travel to either Newcastle or Darlington, a journey of about an hour in those days which could add to the distress of bereavement.
The Rural Dean of Durham approached the Durham Council requesting that urgent consideration be given to the building of a crematorium. The council acted swiftly and a preliminary meeting was held on 22 July 1954 with representatives from the Council of the City of Durham, Durham Rural District Council, Brandon & Byshottles Urban District Council, and Spennymoor Urban District Council.
The meeting resolved that matters be put in hand to form a constitution for a Joint Committee and that plans be drawn up for a Crematorium to be built. The Durham Council advised the meeting, that they were prepared to make available a plot of land consisting of some eight acres at South Road Durham, adjacent to the then fairly new municipal cemetery.
It was decided to meet again on 8 September where it was resolved that Mr. J.P. Chaplin ARIBA – designer of crematoria at Norwich, Cambridge, Northampton, and Peterborough – be approached with a view to designing the proposed Crematorium for Durham. The constitution for a Joint Committee was also agreed upon.
Chairman of the Joint Board, Councillor W. Johnson, reported that when Mr. Chaplin came to Durham for the first time – was faced with a determined board who had regarded that 800 yards from the Crematorium are one of the most majestic buildings in the Country, Durham Cathedral. We were determined that it had to have a one hundred percent relationship with the build of the cathedral.
The Committee met in October and November and again during January 1955. Mr. Chaplin had, by that time, inspected the site and submitted preliminary proposals and a provisional costing of £45,000 for the building of the Crematorium. In September planning approval was obtained from the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and also from Durham County Council.
Chaplin’s design for the Crematorium was for an octagonal centre chapel with a disguised chimney built of local stone with a copper roof – inspiration is said to have come from the monk’s kitchen near the cathedral. Indeed, Chaplin used many references from the cathedral in his building, notably in the chevron patterns used on the pews, altar, catafalque and Book of Remembrance stand.
The first meeting of the officially formed Central Durham Crematorium Joint Committee was held on 23 November 1955. There followed much background work and at the meeting of the CDCJC held on 17 December 1958, over three years later, it was resolved that building work should start as soon as possible.
By November of the following year, with work well advanced, it was agreed to advertise for a crematorium superintendent. Mr Roy Williamson, with experience of management at Hartlepool Crematorium, was appointed.
In July 1960 the fees were set – adult cremation was £6 6s 0d (£6.30). The office was equipped, other staff appointed and the crematorium opened on 4th August 1960. The final cost of building Durham Crematorium was £62,799 9s 0d.
The Joint Committee had resolved that there should be no formally set out gardens with no rose bushes or plaques as they wished the area around the chapel to appear as unspoiled as the surrounding countryside.
The crematorium was Dedicated on Wednesday, 3 August 1960, by the Lord Bishop of Durham (the Rt. Rev. Morris Harland, D.D.) assisted by the Rev. Charles Barrett, MA, DD, President-elect of the Durham and District Free Church Federal Council.
In 1960, Durham Crematorium was one of 17 new crematoria opened that year bringing the total to 148. There were a total of 588,032 deaths of which 204,019 were cremated, 34.70%. For comparison, in 2009 there were 3 new crematoria opened bringing the total to 256 in operation. There were 563,785 deaths of which 413,431 were cremated, 73.33%.
The first cremation service to be held at the new crematorium was of a gentleman from Esh Winning. The funeral was conducted by Funeral Director Bernard Alderson whose son Norman, continues to operate the business, founded in 1921, to this day.
A retired local Funeral Director Mr. Frank Morrell was a young trainee with the Co-operative Funeral Service on the second cremation service. Frank, who lives and is well known in Sacriston, conducts funerals for a Durham company on request.
The new facility was well received by both the clergy and funeral directors and was soon established as a vital service to the community. In the first year of operation 375 cremations took place.
Twenty-four years later, in 1984, the two original cremators needed to be replaced and, at the same time, the opportunity was taken to install a new central heating system as the original electric under-floor heating had not proved very efficient. This work was completed in 1985. In June 1990 an organ was purchased allowing mourners to be accompanied in the singing of hymns for the first time.
The introduction of the Environmental Protection Act (in 1990) had serious implications for the Joint Committee. It became evident very early on that the cremators installed only five years before would not comply with the new legislation and that new equipment would have to be installed. In addition, the original chimney, which was an integral part of the architecture and structure of the building, would have to be replaced.
For this major operation, it was decided to appoint a firm of consulting engineers, A.J. Ramsay & Partners of Stockton-on-Tees, who had previously overseen a major project at Middlesbrough Crematorium. By October of the same year a feasibility study had been completed with the recommendation that three new cremators be installed together with a new chimney and ancillary equipment.
In due course, tender enquiries were sent to all companies capable of carrying out such work. In December 1991, the recommendation was made that L&P Furnaces be awarded the contract for the supply and installations of three single-end cremators. Contracts were issued in March 1992 to L&P Furnaces, A.S.L. Electricals, and Durham City Council Operations Division for the necessary works. Four months later, work commenced on the chimney and buildings and in October the cremator installation began alongside the rewiring of the entire building.
Work progressed well over the winter of 1992/3 with the first new cremator commissioned in December 1992 and the work completed by the end of March 1993. During this time the Crematorium did not close or reduce its service to the public; all contractors worked in such a way as to keep any inconvenience to the absolute minimum, often working until the early hours of the morning.
At the end of the contract, the new cremators were independently tested and found to be fully compliant with the E.P.A. (1990). During the contract, it had been agreed to take the opportunity to improve the interior of the Crematorium and a programme of redecoration was completed.
The issue of memorials had been reviewed from time to time by the Joint Committee over the years and it was always agreed that no formal garden was necessary but, in January 1998, the matter was considered again following a number of requests via Members of the Central Durham Crematorium Joint Committee for a formal Memorial Garden.
The Southern Green Partnership, a local firm of Chartered Landscape Architects, was appointed to prepare a master plan for the design of the
Crematorium grounds which would address the issues of car parking, entry and exit roads and a formal memorial garden. The adjacent cemetery was also included within the scope of the master plan and the brief included the provision of a woodland burial site.
During the first half of 1999 visits were made to many crematoria to assess the best (and worst) features of the formal gardens, and woodland burial sites in different parts of the country.
After much background work had been completed, the design for the memorial garden was agreed upon and tender documents were prepared. Work began on site in May 2000. Cavetto Landscapes of Washington were the successful contractors and the walled garden designed in an octagonal shape with a central pond and fountains to match the chapel, was completed on time and within the budget of £135,000 in October of that year.
The new walled memorial garden was officially opened on 22 July 2000, jointly by the Right Worshipful The Mayor of Durham, Councillor George Wharton, together with The Mayor of Spennymoor Town Council (and Chairman of the Central Durham Crematorium Joint Committee ) Councillor John Marr.
The formal memorial garden has proved to be very popular with the bereaved since memorials were first leased to the public in April 2001. Since that time, some 2,000 memorial leases have been sold. In 2002 the design was awarded a Durham County Council Environment Award in recognition of the superb design.
By Alan José FICCM
A resting place for so many, who have passed on,
Amid the green pastures, where trees and flowers abound.
Fifty years have come and gone for many to remember,
The Crematorium almost in the shadow of the Cathedral,
A mighty backdrop to behold, but no less imposing in its own right,
Uniquely octagonal, embracing all faiths within its walls,
Windows tall and all-embracing too, a vista unequaled,
For many a Heaven on earth, an oasis of peace.
Fifty years, a place to remember, sadness, joy, hope
Remembering loved ones, friends, at peace, at rest,
Memories of all that was good, and thankful for life.
The Book of Remembrance, the Garden of Remembrance,
The tranquillity of the Chapel, the sweet notes of the organ,
A homily delivered, a hymn sung, a prayer said,
A silent thought, a silent tear.
Fifty years, so short a time in comparison to eternity,
An eternity with God, an eternity that awaits.
By Geoffrey Gregg
In an effort to dispel the many myths and tall stories that are told about the happenings at Crematoria, there has been a long established tradition throughout the country for open days to be held.
The first open day at Durham Crematorium was held on 24 July 1994. The Chairman of the Central Durham Crematorium Joint Committee welcomed the first of the 250 visitors on that day, explaining that he hoped that everyone would find the visit both interesting and informative and that they would take away with them a favourable impression of the facility and recognition of the standard of service provided.
Since that time, many open days have been held most recently as part of the English Heritage scheme. A number of visits are made to the Crematorium throughout the year by groups such as CRUISE. Care home staff and as part of the curriculum for university students studying Theology Medicine or other related subjects.