In the early 1800s the population of England was rising rapidly despite low life expectancy for adults and high infant mortality, this was putting huge pressure on burial grounds; resulting in some very unsavoury practices. By 1840 city churchyards and burial plots were overflowing, corpses were added to graves until there was only a thin layer of soil covering them and in the worst cases old graves (and some not so old ) were emptied to make way for the new.
This was also the era of the ‘body snatchers’ and some people resorted to burying their loved ones in lead coffins to give some protection against a practice which horrified them. These coffins had the unfortunate drawback that, if left without a hole being drilled early on, they were likely to explode under the force of gases produced during decomposition!

Burial grounds were thus insanitary and stinking places where it was not unknown for mourners to become overwhelmed by the fumes; and old bones and body parts could be found lying around if they had fallen from the carts carrying them away.

While cities were worst affected Sidmouth had its own scandals.

In 1860, on the 16th June, the headlines in the Western Times proclaimed ‘CHURCHYARD DESECRATION AT SIDMOUTH: ANCESTORS’ BONES SOLD FOR MANURE!! COMMISSION OF INQUIRY but this was not a replication of city practices just an unfortunate result of bad management when the church was enlarged. Never-the-less it shook Sidmouth and drew further attention to the fact that the churchyard had very nearly reached capacity.

An added problem with burials in Sidmouth was that although Non-Conformists had the right to be buried in the churchyard they could not have a service performed at the grave. Although, or perhaps because of, the large proportion of Non-Conformists of varying denominations within Sidmouth this legality did not seem to have caused the conflict it did in other places; all Christian Denominations seem to have got on well.

With this background we can well imagine that residents of Sidmouth welcomed the order that the churchyard be closed and a new cemetery for all be built. A Burial Board was formed in 1877.