The cremation process

A short history

The first public-use crematorium was opened in 1885 in Woking, Surrey and on 26th March 1885 the first official cremation took place. Mrs Pickersgill, a well-known figure in literary and scientific circles, was the first of three cremations that year.

In 1886 10 bodies were cremated and in 1888 28 cremations took place. Most people still preferred the option of burial back then with some religions actually forbidding cremation.

Things have changed a lot since then and cremation now accounts for approximately 78% of all funerals in the British Islands.

Whilst many of us have attended funeral services at a crematorium, the cremation process itself might not be widely known. We held an open day in June 2019 which was attended by more than 400 people, all who wanted to have a look around the new buildings and find out more about cremation.

We hold an open day each year and welcome everyone to come along to find out more about us and our work here. In the meantime, though, below is a brief explanation of the cremation process.

What happens at a cremation?

Before the service

  • The hearse and/or limousines arrive at the crematorium
  •  The crematorium officer greets the funeral directors and the coffin is removed from the hearse and taken into the ceremony hall where it is placed on the Catafalque (the raised platform at the front of the hall)

During the service

  • The coffin remains on the Catafalque while the service takes place, usually led by a vicar or celebrant
  • At the end of the service the curtains in front of the Catafalque are either closed or remain open while mourners leave the hall

After the service

  • Once mourners have left the hall, the curtains are closed if they were not already, and the coffin is removed from the Catafalque to the transfer room via a hatch-door
  • The coffin is then transferred to the crematory via a trolley to be placed on the charger, which is the platform from which the coffin will be moved into the cremator (furnace)
  • The identity is checked using the coffin nameplate and our paperwork

The cremation

  • Once the maximum temperature of 800C has been reached, the coffin will be charged (pushed) into the cremator
  • On average a cremation takes approximately 1.5 hours to complete

After the cremation

  • The cremated remains (ashes) are raked into a cooling chamber below the main furnace
  • Cooling takes about 1 hour and once the ashes are cooled they are moved to a transfer container
  • Any large metal pieces are removed from the ashes for recycling
  • Ashes are then placed in the cremulator for reduction to a fine powder
  • The remains are then transferred into a cardboard container (unless an alternative casket has been requested) which is clearly labelled for identification
  • The ashes are stored in temporary deposit with us until they are either collected by the funeral director, applicant or are scattered witnessed or unwitnessed in our garden of remembrance in accordance with the applicant’s wishes