You might well be in for a big surprise. Who knows! Way back in March, I had seen that our local Crematorium, either known as Corbet’s Tey or the South Essex Crematorium, runs tours for interested local people. I emailed on was offered one in September but made sure I could go, so I found myself on a rainy Wednesday afternoon at the Crematorium. The tour covered the building only, which is comprised of the chapel areas and the actual cremation area. Please note, I asked at the start if I was allowed to take photos fully expecting to be told that the area where the cremations taking part would be off limits. I respected this so there are no photos of what we saw there, but tours like this run throughout the year and you are able to go and see them for yourself if you are interested.
The East Chapel
We started off outside the smaller East Chapel. The building itself has two chapels, the larger South chapel and the East. First we were told a bit about the building itself. The crematorium opened in 1957, we were told this was the year when cremations first overtook burials as the most common method of ‘disposal’. The two chapels are equipped with a media system which allows music to be played, as well as recording and live linking of the ceremony online. The larger South chapel has the ability to show tributes on screens at the front also. It is all very modern and the person conducting the ceremony can control this alongside the curtain around the coffin, or someone in an office outside the chapel is able to do it for them.
Small office where the controls are
I am quite familiar with these chapels as I have been to several funerals at this site. I remember seeing the coffin led in, and placed upon the stand (which has a name I can’t remember!) at the back. Behind the stand are two doors which I always believed didn’t actually open. I’m unsure why but I always thought the crematory workers would come into the room and get it after everyone had left. More on that later. While we were in the chapel, the person showing us around gave a little talk about how to organize a funeral and the costs involved, including interestingly how to keep the costs down. I can definitely recognize a shift in focus of people who work in the death industry towards keeping the costs as low as possible.
Inside the chapel
As for the area with the ‘hearths’ as they called them, I think of them as furnaces for some reason but I’m guessing that’s the wrong word, it amazingly wasn’t as warm as you would think. Those doors do open and the people that work out the back bring the coffins through into the next room on hoist trolleys like we use at the mortuary. Four cremations can happen at a time, although only three were in use when we were there. We saw the different stages of cremation through the peep holes at one end, the raking process to remove the cremated remains and then the placing of a coffin into the hearth. The room itself was tiled and quite large, with waiting coffins on one side and the office and raking area on the other. To one side of the office is the room with the Cremulator, possibly the best named piece of machinery ever and then a further room with the containers of remains with names all stacked and waiting to be collected. The Cremulator not only sounds awesome, but it also finishes off the process by grinding up all the remains to the fine powder we know as cremation remains. Before this there are recognisable bits of bone alongside whatever else there may have been in the coffin. We saw the charred evidence of false knees and picture frames for example. We were also told about how items left in coffins can explode during the process, one pacemaker has exploded here costing thousands of pounds of damage, but also cans of beer go bang if not opened.
Interestingly, the metal left after is placed into a bin if the ‘recycling’ option is selected by the family at time of organising the cremation. These are then recycled, the titanium of knee and hip joints fetching a very pretty penny. The money is received back to the crematorium in the form of a cheque and that money is donated to some great local charities like St. Francis Hospice and Mitchell’s Miracles.
Side view of the building
After visiting the crematorium I do still feel like cremation is the biggest waste of energy it could be. The gas pipes going into the room are huge, and I dread to think what their gas bill comes to. I also think it a shame that you need to have a coffin to be cremated here, they will accept the wicker and cardboard types but I really don’t see the point in having one if you’re going to be burnt to ash. This really only strengthened my desire to see Alkaline Hydrolysis become legal in this country to save waste on coffins or gas! Please don’t cremate me when I’m dead, simple shroud in the ground thank you until other methods are available!
The other thing that I found astounding was their encouragement for to people to be embalmed. The comment was along the lines of the smell isn’t pleasant for them if you aren’t. There was a lot of nods in the room and my little voice from the back cried out ‘find out more about the process before you make that decision!’. Honestly, the lady showing us around told me that at the funeral directors you would be asked if you would like to see your relative before the funeral, if the answer is yes then off they go for embalming. I’ve not gone too much into the process before because I would like to see it one day properly, but I don’t like the sound of it and I’m not sure others would either. In my mind it’s mostly unnecessary apart from in a few occasions, particularly unnecessary if refrigeration is used and the funeral is within a couple of weeks. Plus it’s another charge to add on your bill that makes funerals so expensive. However, I’ll save my full embalming rant for another time.
In other news this week, totally smashed my 50 brains target and currently sitting at 54. My manager showed me the most effective way of completing a brain removal and I’m going to have a go at some point replicating what he did. I will explain when I do!
Death Cafe is coming up on Tuesday, hoping for a good turn out so if you would like to know more or are thinking of attending do get in touch.