Cemeteries garner considerable academic attention as anthropologists, landscapers, archaeologists, sociologists, geographers and historians examine their layout, purpose and use. Emerging from these studies is a body of literature that considers cemetery and burial ground design, memorialisation, mourning behaviour and ‘dark tourism’. Beyond interdisciplinary journals such as Mortality and edited multi-disciplinary books however, the insight generated in this literature can be fragmented through publication in discipline specific periodicals. As a result cemeteries are often analysed and presented as places that contain, for example, design or tourism and heritage or emotion and mourning. Framed by concerns over the sustainability of cemeteries nationwide, this paper considers the contemporary English cemetery as a simultaneous space of emotion, commerce and community. Using data from an ethnographic case study of a cemetery in East London, it illustrates the contestation that can result from these concurrent contrasting interpretations. The paper concludes that care needs to be taken when implementing initiatives and policy to balance the varying demands and expectations of a cemetery’s purpose and use.