Video: Skeletons to be exhumed from Norwich churchyard
10:42 25 January 2014
Skeletons dating back to the 19th century that were unearthed during excavations in historic Elm Hill in Norwich are set to be exhumed.
The remains were uncovered as part of improvement work being carried out to the Britons Arms coffee house and restaurant.
A new emergency escape route is being created from the first floor of the building to the nearby St Peter Hungate churchyard, which was a burial ground up until 1856.
The old cemetery wall was also uncovered and nails that had been used in the coffins of those buried.
The age and gender of the bodies have not yet been determined, but anyone whose relatives were buried in the churchyard are being invited to come forward to make their own arrangements for the removal of the bodies and their re-interment.
Janet Jury, architect director with Aylsham-based Reynolds Jury Architecture, said that, while they anticipated some discoveries of archaeological interest when they started the work, this was special.
She said: “We had expected to find remains but not quite so shallow. The churchyard has been re-levelled in modern times. The bones were identified after just two hours’ work. It was like CSI Norwich.
“We do expect to find more. At the conclusion of the works, and if no family members come forward, it is proposed the remains will be re-interred as close to the location where they were found and that a short ceremony will take place under the direction of a local clergyman.
“The churchyard was closed to burials in 1856 and we have been told that any records are held by the county archive.”
Work on Britons Arms
Work on the emergency escape route from the Britons Arms to St Peter Hungate churchyard is part of a long-term improvement package being carried out at one of Norwich’s most historic buildings.
The first phase of repair work at the building in Elm Hill was completed in July last year.
That work included repairs to the exterior of the building, the roof timbers and the re-thatching in East Anglian reed.
A temporary kitchen has just been installed at the Britons Arms in the second phase of the work, which includes an upgrade to the kitchen area and toilets, and the link to the adjoining churchyard.
Malcolm Crowder, from the Norwich Preservation Trust, said the second phase of the work also included flooring in the attic and reinstating one window. Work is currently being delayed by the requirement to publish a notice in the newspaper of the intention to remove the human remains from the churchyard, and the subsequent wait to see if any families of those buried come forward. But he said that the work should be completed in about three months’ time.
As per the Burial Act of 1857, the company, acting as agent for the Norwich Preservation Trust, which took on the leasehold of the Britons Arms in 2011, published a notice of intention in the EDP to remove the human remains at the churchyard.
The notice states, “We intend to exhume remains of various persons interred in the burial ground of St Peter Hungate, in order to lower the path to provide more suitable access. The trust proposes to remove and re-inter or cremate the remains in accordance with conditions proposed by the Secretary of State.”
Malcolm Crowder, surveyor and secretary for the trust, said: “This is the first time in 15 years of projects in the city that we have come across skeletons, so it’s a new experience.”
Meanwhile, Sue Skipper, who runs the Britons Arms with her sister Gilly Mixer, said it was a very exciting discovery. “It was very interesting to uncover it before our very eyes.” she said.
The exhumation process
To exhume bodies from a churchyard entails quite a lengthy process. To start, research has to be carried out to identify if the ground is still considered consecrated. If it is still consecrated, then no soil can be removed. In this case, it was not consecrated.
Archaeological contractors were asked to submit prices to implement the work, and on that tender price APS Sleaford was hired.
But on the first day of work the skeletons were discovered and it was reported to the Ministry of Justice. Normally with a closed churchyard the government will grant a licence to remove the remains and re-inter them in a location nearby.
But the ministry refused on this occasion, and the company had to publish a notice of its intent in the EDP and then send them a copy of the notice in the paper to prove their compliance.
There has been a building on the site of the Britons Arms since 1347 and a dendrochronology test on attic floor timbers dated these between 1407-21.
A plan of the present place of burial and a list of names of those buried can be inspected at Norwich Preservation Trust, 58 King Street, Norwich until February 21.
Have you uncovered part of Norwich’s past? Call reporter David Bale on 01603 772427 or email firstname.lastname@example.org