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Cemeteries and funerals FAQs

What is a coroner? Toggle accordion

A coroner is an independent judicial officer. The Coroners’ Service is operated by Hertfordshire County Council. They will investigate someone’s death if they died within the Hertfordshire area, and 

  • the cause of the death is unknown or
  • the cause of the death is unnatural (including injuries at work, road accidents and death during medical surgery) or if
  • the deceased was in police custody or prison at the time of their death.

In some cases, no further investigations are needed. However, if a doctor can't say what the likely cause of death was or didn't treat the deceased during their last illness, then the Coroner will decide what investigations (such as a post mortem or Coroner's Inquest) are needed and let the next of kin know.

The Hertfordshire Coroner’s Service telephone number is 01707 292707. Full contact details are here.

What is a mortuary? Toggle accordion

A mortuary (sometimes called a morgue) is a room or building in which deceased bodies are kept, for hygienic storage or for examination, until collected by a funeral director for the funeral and burial or cremation.

Most mortuaries are in large hospitals. If someone has died in hospital they will be kept in the mortuary until collected by the funeral director.

Funeral directors usually have their own Chapel of Rest (sometimes called a funeral chapel or funeral parlour). This is where the deceased’s family and friends can view the body to pay their respects if they wish. Funeral chapels will have refrigerated facilities in the same way as a mortuary so that the deceased’s body can be kept hygienically and with respect until the funeral.

If a family member or friend has died and you are not sure where they have been taken, the doctor who signed the death certificate, the hospital where they died, or the chosen funeral director will be able to help you.

Are graves filled in straight after a funeral? Toggle accordion

Graves are generally prepared for burial at least one full day before the funeral and are covered overnight.  The ICCM Guiding Principles for Burial Services states that immediately after the mourners have departed the graveside, the grave shall be entirely backfilled and made tidy.  This work is completed on the day of the burial so that coffins will not be left uncovered overnight.

Can anyone witness the grave being filled? Toggle accordion

Yes, but the cemetery will need to be advised of this before the funeral takes place so that they are prepared. 

I am told the grave is for two people – there is only one person in the grave. What do I do if now want two more burials to take place in the grave? Toggle accordion

When a grave is purchased to take two full body burials, the depth the grave is excavated for the first burial must provide for the need for the second burial.

There are legal requirements on how much earth must be left on top of the last coffin, and it is not therefore physically possible to put an extra coffin into the grave without breaking the law. However, after the grave is full for a coffined burial, cremated remains may be buried within the grave. 

I have a lawn grave. When will I be able to put a memorial on it? Toggle accordion

With lawn graves, almost immediately.  Most of our lawn sections have concrete foundations or memorial bearers that the headstone sits on, so there is no waiting for the grave to settle. 

I have a lawn grave. Why can't I put a full memorial over the surface of the grave? Toggle accordion

The lawn grave was designed on the war grave principle (to have only a memorial of limited size at the head of the grave with the rest of the grave laid to lawn).  These graves are sold on the understanding that only lawn style memorials are erected. Care must be taken when selecting the type of grave.

If you would prefer a larger, more traditional type memorial you should not opt for a lawn grave. 

I own the grave – can anyone else be buried in it if I don't want them to? Toggle accordion

No.  Graves cannot be opened without the permission in writing of the registered owner of the grave.  The only exception to this is where the burial is to be that of the registered owner in which case no written authority is required.  The law protects your rights as registered owner of the grave. 

I understand that some people wait while the grave is filled in. Why is this? Toggle accordion

Some cultures require that the grave is filled in while the family watch or they may wish to undertake the back filling of the grave themselves.  When families want this, it is essential that the cemetery is made aware of their requirements when the burial is first arranged. This will ensure that the family's wishes are met and that their safety is protected during the back-filling process. 

I want to bury cremated remains in the grave. Why do I have to decide whether there will be any more burials before this can be done? Toggle accordion

It is against the law to disturb human remains without licence (including cremated remains), and therefore no further burials will be possible in the grave until a licence has been obtained.  

Cremated remains can be buried in the grave at full depth, in which case they will not be disturbed by further full body burials, but by having to excavate a grave to this depth there will be additional charges for opening the grave. 

Is it possible to find out where someone has been laid to rest? Toggle accordion

Yes, we retain records of all burials and graves currently within our three cemeteries. Our burial registers contain in the regions of 40,000 records covering Hatfield Road and London Road Cemetery in St Albans and Westfield Road Cemetery in Harpenden.  

To help us find the person you are looking for we need as much information from you as possible: full name/age/date of death/cemetery name

For more information please contact the Cemeteries Office.

What happens when the lease expires? Toggle accordion

The law stipulates that graves cannot be sold for more than 100 years.  When you buy a grave you purchase the exclusive Rights of Burial in that grave space for a set period. At the end of that time you (or your family) should contact the Council about renewing it.  This way, the grave can stay in the family for as long as they wish. 

What is the interment? Toggle accordion

Interment is the word commonly used to describe the burial of a person.  The interment fee is the burial fee and is for the grave excavation at the time of the funeral. 

Why are graves dug so deep? Toggle accordion

Graves must be dug to a sufficient depth to allow for future burials to take place. Therefore, the grave needs to be deep enough to allow the depth of the coffins or caskets to be buried, and to meet the legal requirements of undisturbed earth between each coffin and the amount of earth that must cover the last interment.

Why has my grave sunk? Toggle accordion

Following an interment, the ground will settle. This may be greater than normal following heavy rain.  The grounds staff will routinely top up the grave until the consolidation has stopped. 

Why have I only been sold the grave for a fixed duration? I want the grave forever. Toggle accordion

The law stipulates that a grave cannot be sold for more than 100 years. However, the law does allow the "grant of ownership" to be extended. You or your family can renew the grant once it has expired. 

How long do I have to wait after an interment before I can put a memorial on my grave? Toggle accordion

This will depend on what type of grave you have. If the grave already has a concrete plinth or memorial bearer, or is a cremated remains plot, the memorial can be erected shortly following interment.

For all other types of graves, we recommend that you do not erect a memorial for at least 12 months following an interment to allow the ground to settle.  

If I have insurance cover on my memorial will the costs of repair be covered? Toggle accordion

Check with your memorial mason or insurer to find out.

Are dogs allowed in the cemeteries? Toggle accordion

Only registered guide dogs or registered assistance dogs are permitted. 

What is the exclusive right of burial? Toggle accordion

When a grave is ‘purchased’ this refers to the purchasing of the exclusive right of burial in a grave space, and not the purchase of the land itself.

This means that you do not own the land but have the exclusive right, during the period stated in the Grant of Exclusive Right of Burial (deed), to say who can be buried in the grave and the right to place an appropriate memorial.

Many people believe that if they have the grave deed in their possession or are the next of kin of the late grave owner, they own the rights to the grave. There is no automatic right to the burial rights and only the person named on the deed or the person who has transferred the deed through the cemetery office is the grave owner.

What happens if the grave owner has died? Toggle accordion

The grave owner may be buried in the grave they own without a transfer of ownership of the Grant of Exclusive Right of Burial (deed), providing there is space in the grave or cremated remains plot. The grave owner’s inscription may be placed on an existing memorial, but no other memorial work can be authorised until the ownership has been transferred. Once the owner has been buried no further burials can be allowed. 

We will write to the applicant for the grave owner’s burial immediately after the funeral inviting them to transfer the ownership.  If the grave has further space it is very important that the transfer takes place at this time to prevent any delays when the grave is to be reopened. Any person(s) with an equal right, for example, siblings, must complete a statement relinquishing their rights to the exclusive right of burial before the transfer can take place.

What is the difference between 'unpurchased' and 'purchased' graves? Toggle accordion

An unpurchased grave, sometimes known as a public or general grave, is where the right to burial cannot be bought and the council has total control of the grave. These graves can sometimes be bought at a later date provided they have not been used for a second interment. The council will decide who will be buried in the grave and this might not be members of the same family. 

No memorial rights exist on public graves so no headstone or other memorial can be put up. A purchased grave is where the right of burial can be bought for a set number of years, which may be extended. The owner of the right of burial can decide who will be buried in the grave and memorials are allowed in line with our cemetery regulations and with the permission of the legal living owner/s. 

Why is the statement “I understand that my name and address may be disclosed to a funeral director or memorial mason providing goods or services” also on the form? Toggle accordion

If a funeral director or memorial mason contacts the cemetery office after they have been instructed by you or your family to provide a service this statement allows us to confirm that you are the owner of the exclusive right of burial. Under Data Protection legislation we would not be able to deal with such enquiries unless you give us this permission. Your details would not be disclosed for any other purpose unless you specifically request this. 

Can I bury cremated remains in the cemeteries? Toggle accordion

Yes.  There are Gardens of Rest for cremated remains at each of our cemeteries. You can also inter cremated remains in 'purchased' graves. Once cremated remains have been placed in purchased graves they can no longer be used for full burials. 

Can I reserve a grave for future use? Toggle accordion

Yes.  You can reserve a grave or a cremated remains plot for 20 years in London Road Cemetery and Westfield Road Cemetery.   You can reserve a green burial grave or a cremated remains plot for 20 years in Hatfield Road Cemetery.

Can I sell back an unused grave? Toggle accordion

Yes, the council will buy back graves, which have not been used and will refund the amount originally paid at the time of purchase. 

Can someone who lived outside of District be buried in one of the council’s cemeteries? Toggle accordion

Residents of the district receive a discount. There are however some exceptions.

If you have a question that is not answered here, please contact us or for further advice call 01727 819362.