Direct cremations are a funeral process in which the deceased is cremated without a traditional funeral service or any mourners present. Instead, family and friends can come together somewhere more personal to celebrate the life of their loved one. 

Many believe direct cremations are a new phenomenon due to their spike in popularity since the COVID-19 pandemic. However, direct cremations have actually been around since the late 1800s.

In this article, we are going to explore a brief history of direct cremations, why people choose them, and why they have become so popular in the last few years.

When Was the First Direct Cremation?

The very first cremation was carried out in March 1885. Mrs Pickersgill was cremated at Woking Crematorium, and she was not only the first person to be cremated but also the first to have a direct cremation.

Fast forward sixty years to 1945, and even funeral directors themselves were opting for direct cremations, with Mr Frederick Paine, a funeral director from South-West London, being cremated without a service or attendees.

Since then, direct cremations have become much more of a ‘norm’ rather than a unique funeral choice, with 18% of the UK population opting for this service in 2022. This rise in popularity is largely due to the pandemic in which people had no choice but to hold unattended funerals. However, even since the pandemic, people’s preference towards unattended cremations has continued to rise.

uk's first cremation

Why do People Choose Direct Cremations?

Direct cremations are much more affordable than traditional funerals, and with many experiencing financial hardships due to the cost of living crisis, have now become the best option for many. However, affordability is not the only reason people choose to have a direct cremation, there are numerous reasons people opt for an unattended funeral, these include:


Arranging a funeral is often a stressful responsibility, with little to no time for loved ones to grieve properly until after. Direct cremations take away all of the fuss of traditional funeral arrangements, such as organising wakes, flowers, or catering, allowing people to celebrate their loved one in their own time and way, without any added pressure. 

A Change in Attitudes

Since the first cremation in 1885, a lot has changed and developed in the world. And as expected, these changes have seen a development in the way people think about funerals.

In the late 1800s to the early 1900s, cremations would have made up a very small percentage of funerals in the country, and even smaller for direct cremations. Instead, it was common for more traditional funerals to be held which focussed on mourning and grief, and often involved religious rituals or symbols. 

As time moved on and the country underwent rapid gentrification, opinions and attitudes towards traditional norms started to evolve. As a result, cremation funerals overtook burials in popularity, making up 74.3% of funerals in 2000. 

Although cremations had become the more popular option in the early 2000s, direct cremations, although a thing then, didn’t gain popularity until much later. In fact, according to a funeral director interviewed for SunLife’s 2022 Cost of Dying Report, direct cremations are something that “six years ago (from 2022) people didn’t even know about”.

It wasn’t until 2019/2020 that direct cremations became a preferred choice. This was of course due to the pandemic, but what’s interesting is they remained popular even afterwards - right up until the present day.

Over the past decade, the UK has seen yet another dramatic shift in attitudes towards funerals. With the rise of the internet encouraging more liberal views on the way people choose to live their lives, many are now deciding that funerals should be focussed on celebrating the deceased in a way that is befitting to their lives, rather than mourning them in a stuffy funeral environment. One commenter on the Evening Standard stated:

"We've worked all our lives and we want our children to have that money to do something to remember us in their own way."

Direct cremations are a great way for families and friends to pay their respects to a loved one, without having to make a huge and often unnecessary fuss. Instead, a celebration of life ceremony can be held, which focuses on the deceased and their life in a much more personal and private way.

funerals in the uk changing

Direct Cremations: Need further advice?

If you need any further advice on this topic or are looking to arrange a direct cremation, get in touch with our expert team today. 

At Celebration of Life, we offer one of the UK’s lowest-price simple and fully inclusive direct cremations, both pre-paid and at-need. We’re available 24/7, whenever you need us, and more than happy to help. So, if you’re looking for an affordable and fuss-free direct cremation service, contact us at Celebration of Life today – we’re always happy to help.

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