The rights of Nonconformists to be buried in parish churchyards and of Nonconformist clergy to conduct the burial service were issues, linked to the question of the validity of Nonconformist baptism, which flared into controversy, chiefly in rural areas, at several points in the nineteenth century, and especially as clergy came under the influence of Anglo-Catholicism. As WM became a body recognizably distinct from the CofE, it was drawn into the controversy. In 1808 the refusal of the vicar of Belton (Rutland) to bury a child because it had not received Anglican baptism led to a test case and the vicar's suspension for three months. A similar case arose at Gedney (Lincs) in 1842 and was taken by the Committee of Privileges to the Court of Arches, which ruled in favour of WM, a verdict later confirmed on appeal to the Privy Council.

The Primitive Methodists were similarly affected, e.g. at Wormegay and Burnham Westgate in Norfolk in 1847 and 1850 respectively. Following the 'Akenham Burial Case' of 1878, the issue was finally resolved by the Burial Laws Amendment Act of 1880, supported by H.H. Fowler and R.W. Perks and opposed by Bishop Wordsworth of Lincoln. Reinforced by the Burials Act of 1900 (prompted by the much publicized 'Boydell case' at Lowton, Manchester), the 1880 Act permitted burials in churchyards without the use of the BCP or the attendance of a clergyman.

  • Ronald Fletcher, The Akenham Burial Case (1974)
  • O. Chadwick, The Victorian Church, vol. 2 (1970) pp.202-7
  • J.M. Turner, Conflict and Reconciliation (1985) pp.132-33
  • Kenneth Lysons, A Little Primitive: Primitive Methodism from Macro and Micro Perspectives (Buxton, 2001) pp.239-42
  • Norma Virgoe, 'Burial Rites and Wrongs', in bulletin of the East Anglia Branch of the WHS, 109, Autumn 2007