Until the Births and Deaths Registration Act of 1926 called for the registration of stillbirths as from 1 July 1927, the only regulation that existed was the 1874 requirement for a declaration of stillbirth to be obtained. We understand this was so an infant who had been born alive but died shortly after birth could not be buried as a stillborn. A stillbirth is the death of a foetus anytime after the 24th week of pregnancy. A baby who draws a breath, even just one, is not classed as stillborn. Before 1874, many such deaths went unregistered as the parents would have to pay for both a birth and death certificates, the cost of which was beyond the means of many in the 19th century.
As part of the Manchester General Cemetery Transcription Project, we have compiled an index of the stillborn burials which took place at the Cemetery. There were over 9,500 stillborn burials at Manchester General Cemetery. In fact one of the first two burials to take place on
31st August 1837 was that of a stillborn infant. We believe it is unusual for the actual plot or grave number to be recorded, however, there are probably 1,000 burials on our list where the grave number has been recorded although the majority were interred in public ground.
It is extremely rare for a gravestone to be inscribed, however, we have so far identified one instance where a stillborn male infant has been named and his death, in 1842, has been recorded on the family headstone.
Sometimes, the body of a stillborn child was placed in the coffin of an unrelated adult who was about to be buried. We have a record of this occurring at Manchester General Cemetery. Although we were aware this happened, having a record is unusual.
The sex of the baby is rarely recorded (only 28 times) and our index also includes 48 sets of stillborn twins. From 3rd October 1882 until 26th March 1886 no stillborn burials were recorded with the exception of one on 15th May 1883. It is often wrongly assumed that stillborn infants were not buried in consecrated ground. Burials of stillborns at Manchester General Cemetery took place in both consecrated and unconsecrated ground. The cost of the interment of a stillborn in a public grave (consecrated or unconsecrated) in 1854 was 2 shillings. Some of the infants (but not all) can be identified by the surname of the parent(s) and most (although again not all) include the address. However in some cases, the address is a workhouse or other institution.