LONDON — So you think London, population 8 million, is crowded with the living?
There are many millions more under the soil of a city that has been inhabited for 2,000 years. And London is rapidly running out of places to put them.
Now the city's largest cemetery is trying to persuade Londoners to share a grave with a stranger.
"A lot of people say, 'I'm not putting my dad in a secondhand grave,' " said Gary Burks, superintendent and registrar of the City of London Cemetery, final resting place of close to 1 million Londoners. "You have to deal with that mindset."
The problem is a very British one. Many other European countries regularly reuse old graves after a couple of decades. Britain does not, as a result of Victorian hygiene obsession, piecemeal regulation and national tradition. For many, an Englishman's tomb, like his home, is his castle.
That view is also common in the United States, which like Britain tends to regard graves as eternal and not to be disturbed.
In much of Britain, reusing old graves remains illegal, but the City of London Cemetery is exploiting a legal loophole that allows graves with remaining space in them to be reclaimed after 75 years.
Burks points to a handsome marble obelisk carrying the details of the recently departed man buried underneath. The name of a Victorian Londoner interred in the same plot is inscribed on the other side. The monument has simply been turned around for its new user.
Since a change in the law last year, cemetery staff have begun the even more sensitive process of digging up old remains, reburying them deeper and putting new corpses on top, in what have been dubbed "double-decker" graves.
Burks said reusing graves will buy the rapidly filling cemetery six or seven more years of burials.