“Giving something back”: A case study of woodland burial and human experience at Barton Glebe.


This thesis engages with the recent innovation in British funerary rites known as ‘natural’ burial through an interview-based case study of one particular site, Barton Glebe, which offers ‘woodland’ burial. Through ethnographic description and socio-cultural analysis the values, concepts and behaviours aligned with natural burial are approached from the perspective of the bereaved, pre-registered users, site providers and those in the funeral industry. The thesis begins by providing an overview of natural burial in Britain (Chapter 1), in which historical and cultural continuities between contemporary British natural burial provision and prior disposal practices are compared (Chapter 3). Chapter 4 provides a historical account of Barton Glebe’s first ten years of burial provision. Chapter 5 shows how Barton Glebe is not only a physical landscape but also an emotional landscape, in which emotions and memory are socio-spatially articulated through ‘nature’. Chapter 6 identifies the range of values invested in Barton Glebe and argues that the policing of graves and enforcement of rules and regulations by ground staff are reactions to a conflict of values, most often between site management and the bereaved. Whilst not unique to natural burial, this conflict is particularly striking in a burial ground in which little or no memorialisation should take place. Subsequently, Chapter 7 argues that the dead are not necessarily given sovereign status, a feature that distinguishes Barton Glebe from other places of burial. It is the ‘natural’ world that becomes a feature at Barton Glebe and, I argue, can create a therapeutic landscape for the bereaved. Chapter 8 concludes by arguing that the motives to give something back and to return to nature allow those who pre-register to affirm their core values and imagine continuity of identity beyond death (by becoming a part of ‘nature’), whilst the desire to be of use grants personal salvation for some pre-registered users

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This paper was published in Durham e-Theses.

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