3.2.2 The Unitarian burial ground: 18th and 19th centuries

The site was apparently levelled when the chapel graveyard was laid out in about 1700. The natural sandstone clay (103) was seen at 78.4m to 78.3m AOD. This had been truncated and a made ground deposit (200) introduced above, typically 0.60m deep and composed of a red-brown silt clay with abundant brick and stone fragments. This deposit formed the ground surface of the Unitarian chapel graveyard, and was seen to truncate the earlier remnant of buried soil (100) along the northern edge of the site. The made ground deposit (200) contained pottery of 18th- and 19th-century date, and fragments of mid-17th- to late 19th-century clay tobacco pipes.

Plate 10

Plate 10: Excavated drain structure [105]

On the substation site, a 0.50m wide drainage channel, [104], was cut into the surface of natural sandstone, running east to west across the evaluation trench. The drain structure had brick sides and a sandstone slab cap (Pl. 10), and was infilled with two layers of accumulated silt, containing predominantly 18th- to 19th-century pottery, clay tobacco pipe and glass.

Towards the southern end of the substation trench, a single grave cut [108], aligned east to west, was identified, cut into the undisturbed natural sandstone clay (103). Further grave cuts [201], [203] and [213], all aligned east to west, were seen during reduction of ground levels between the north edge of the chapel and the boundary wall with Pepper Alley, cut into the made ground deposit (200) and the underlying natural sandstone clay. Both [201] and [203] were hand-excavated to a depth of 0.30m, which was the maximum depth of the proposed ground level reduction in this area. No burials were noted above this level and no further excavation was considered necessary. It was considered likely that the re-routed service trench would affect the northern part of grave [213], so this area was subsequently re-excavated by hand to a depth of 0.90m.

The uppermost surface of the yard consisted of a layer (212) of cinder material (coal, coke and slag fragments) varying in thickness across the site from 0.10m to 0.30m thick. This material covered all of the grave cuts and fills discussed above and was the latest 19th-century levelling of the yard surface upon which the gravestones were laid.

Grave [108]/(109) – SK[1] Coffin [111], SK[2] Coffin [114]

Grave cut [108] was roughly oval-shaped in plan, with tapered ends at the east and west, roughly reflecting the shape of a coffin. The cut became progressively narrower, being 1.40m long and 0.65m wide at the surface of the natural, with the sides gradually sloping inwards towards the base at 0.30m deep. The uppermost visible grave fill (109) was an orange-brown silty clay with frequent angular sandstone inclusions and evidence of significant waterlogging. This fill contained 17th- to 19th-century pottery, glass, and a fragment of leather shoe.

The location of the grave cut roughly coincided with the position of the single grave slab removed on the southern edge of the substation footprint, although [108] was observed to be slightly further north than the position of the slab. This suggests that the slab above had been repositioned slightly to the south, perhaps as a consequence of construction of the lean-to building above. This grave slab was recorded as number 12 in the gravestone survey, but the inscription was illegible.

Plate 1

Plate 1: SK[1] in coffin [111] within grave [108]

The length of grave cut [108] suggested that a child's burial might be present. On initial cleaning a burial was discovered just below the level of machine excavation at the south-west corner of the grave cut. SK[1] was an infant buried within coffin [111] (Pl. 1). The skeleton was 50-74% complete but the bone was in poor condition. The fragmentary remains of a wooden coffin base [111], 0.64m long by 0.19m wide, were discovered beneath the skeleton. Small iron coffin nails and iron upholstery studs associated with the coffin were uncovered within the grave fill. This skeleton was clearly the most recent insertion within grave [108], although no separate cut for this burial could be identified within the grave fill.

Plate 2

Plate 2: SK[2] in coffin [114] within grave [108]

The grave cut was clearly originally excavated for the burial of SK[2], which lay below SK[1]. SK[2] was also a young child buried within coffin [114] (Pl. 2). This skeleton was 75-100% complete and the bone was in excellent condition, although it exhibited dark staining, presumably as a result of the waterlogged ground conditions. The skeleton was within a waterlogged single-break (angled at the shoulder) flat-lidded coffin that measured up to 1.20m long, 0.34m wide and 0.24m deep. The sides and lid of the coffin were constructed from oak, which tree-ring analysis suggests were all derived from a single tree and were possibly imported, but the base was ash (see Table 2, Table 3 and Analysis of Coffin Wood).

Coffin [114] was completely intact apart from a split in the lid that had resulted in its northern side collapsing in slightly. The intact nature of the coffin meant that the skeleton was completely waterlogged and only a small amount of sediment was present at the bottom of the coffin. The presence of the water had resulted in considerable disturbance to the skeleton; the skull was at the western end of the coffin but none of the other bones were in their original burial positions. However, the intact nature of the coffin meant that the bone had been excellently preserved. The sediment in the bottom of the coffin was collected and later sieved; thus almost the entire skeleton was preserved and retrieved. The collection of the sediment in this manner also meant that there was excellent retrieval of grave goods, which consisted of fragments of fabric, possibly from a shroud, brass shroud pins and a tiny brass needle (see Table 2, Table 3 and Shroud Pins). Large numbers of human hairs, and fibres presumably derived from fabric belonging to clothing or a shroud, were present within the sediment (see Plant Remains). A single sherd of 18th-century pottery was also found within the sediment.

Plate 3

Plate 3: Grave cut [108]

At the very base of grave cut [108] was a deposit of wood chippings [115], directly below coffin [114]. The wood chippings contained a single sherd of 18th- or 19th-century pottery. Environmental analysis showed that the wood chips were the only waterlogged plant remains present within the deposit. The cleanness of the deposit suggests that the wood chips had been deliberately placed beneath the coffin immediately before the interment. The undisturbed natural sandstone clay (103) forming the base of the grave cut had been stained a dark blue-grey colour (Pl. 3), similar to the staining that had affected SK[2]. This was interpreted as resulting from the waterlogged ground conditions leaching organic matter from the wood and coffin into the clay.

Grave [201]/(202)

Grave cut [201] was a single grave, oval in plan and measuring 1.00m long by 0.52m wide. The grave fill (202) consisted of redeposited natural yellow clay mixed with black cinders and brown clay, the latter being redeposited made ground. The fill contained a single sherd of 18th- to 19th-century pottery and a single stem of late 18th- to late 19th-century clay tobacco pipe. The grave cut was hand-excavated to the proposed formation depth of 0.30m and no burials were noted above this level. The size of [201] suggested a child's grave, and it may have represented the latest cut into a larger multi-occupancy grave. However, the location of grave cut [201] corresponded to gravestone 39 in the gravestone survey, which only appeared to bear one partially legible inscription, recording the death of a single individual.

Grave [203]/(204)

Plate 4

Plate 4: Double grave [203]

Grave cut [203] was a double grave cut, roughly H-shaped in plan, with two parallel single oval graves linked at the centre (Pl. 4). The grave was 2.10m long and 1.37m wide. The grave fill (204) consisted of redeposited natural yellow clay mixed with black cinder and brown clay; the latter was redeposited made ground. The fill contained late 17th- to early 19th-century pottery along with earlier residual material, including a sherd of Coal Measures Purple ware (15th- to 16th-century) and a sherd of 13th- to 15th-century Reduced Sandy ware, perhaps contemporary with the medieval material from (100), as well as fragments of mid-17th- to late 19th-century clay tobacco pipe, and glass. The grave cut was hand-excavated to the proposed formation depth of 0.30m, and no burials were noted above this level.

The location of this grave corresponded to gravestone 40 and the remnant of a foundation pad for the stone was represented by a rectangular area of mortar [205], measuring 0.80m long, 0.60m wide and 0.03m thick, over the western end of the grave. The inscription on gravestone 40 recorded the death of five individuals. Four of these were a husband, wife and two sons, all bearing the same surname. The other individual had a different surname and was described as a widow; presumably she was associated with the same family. Assuming that the gravestone recorded the deaths of the individuals buried within grave [203], the multiple occupancy of a family grave would account for the double cut.

Graves [213]/(211), [208]/(210), [207]/(209) - SK[3] Coffin [215], SK[4] Coffin [214]

At the eastern end of the site there was a large grave cut [213], cut through the made ground deposit (200), representing a large multi-occupancy grave 2.10m long and 2.00m wide. The grave cut was backfilled with redeposited natural yellow-orange clay (211), which contained 18th- to early 19th-century pottery, as well as a single stem of mid-17th- to late 18th-century clay tobacco pipe. The surface of (211) had been cut by two further roughly oval grave cuts [207] and [208], representing the latest burials within the original grave cut (Pl. 5). The two later grave cuts were initially hand-excavated to the proposed formation depth of 0.30m, and no burials were noted above this level. Grave cut [207] measured 1.50m long and 0.50m wide. The grave fill (209) consisted of dark grey sandy clay containing 17th- to 19th-century pottery, as well as two 19th-century clay tobacco pipe stems and glass. Grave cut [208] measured 1.40m long and 0.90m wide. The grave fill (210) consisted of dark grey sandy clay containing 18th- to early 19th-century pottery, a single mid-17th- to late 18th-century clay tobacco pipe stem and glass.

Plate 5

Plate 5: Graves [207] and [208] within multi-occupancy grave [213]

A rough unmortared sandstone slab structure [206] was laid on a north to south alignment across the pair of later graves. This structure measured 1.40m long and 1.00m wide and consisted of two main slabs 0.15m thick, the largest measuring 0.70m by 0.60m, each of which had been laid over one of the grave cuts. These larger slabs were supported by smaller slabs and fragments both around and below them. The structure may have originally supported a grave slab spanning graves [207] and [208]. It seems likely that one or both of the slabs mounted on the chapel wall nearby were originally laid in this location. The gravestone mounted at the base of the chapel wall was number 38 in the gravestone survey, but the gravestone situated higher up the chapel wall was not included in the gravestone survey as it was not affected by the groundworks. These gravestones both recorded the deaths of related individuals, with gravestone 39 belonging to the Sylvester family and the higher gravestone naming several members of the Wadsworth family, who were related by marriage. Presuming that these slabs belonged to grave cut [213], the number of individuals recorded as having been buried from these two families would account for the unusually large size of this grave cut in the context of a family burial plot.

Plate 6

Plate 6: SK[3] (with coffin [214] to the left) within grave [207]

The 0.90m maximum depth of the re-routed service trench appeared certain to affect skeletons contained within the northern grave cut [207] and could also possibly affect any skeletons contained within the northern part of grave cut [213], outside or below the limits of grave cut [207]. The entirety of grave cut [207] was excavated and the dimensions were discovered to be larger than originally thought, measuring 2.15m long, 0.60m wide and 0.60m deep. The grave cut had clearly only been excavated for the burial of SK[3], an adult of undeterminable age or sex buried within coffin [215] (Pl. 6). The skeleton was less than 24% complete and the bone was almost completely decayed, with only fragments of the long bones surviving. The fragmentary remains of the wooden coffin base were discovered beneath SK[3] and a fragment of iron band associated with the coffin was uncovered within grave fill (209). The outline of the coffin was visible as an organic stain measuring 1.92m long by 0.64m wide in the surface of the underlying grave fill (216) (Pl. 7). The right arm of SK[3] was only discovered during excavation of grave fill (216) and was found lying at a high level within coffin [214], which belonged to SK[4] and lay slightly to the north, below coffin [215]. This was presumably a result of the degradation and collapse of the two coffins over time. The close relationship of the two coffins clearly demonstrated that the earlier burial had been respected during the excavation of grave cut [207].

Plate 7 Plate 8

Plate 7: Stain of coffin [215] visible in grave fill (216) (with coffin [214] to left) within multi-occupancy grave [213]

Plate 8: SK[4] in coffin [214] within multi-occupancy grave [213]

Grave fill (216) was clearly distinct from the overlying fill, and comprised yellow-brown sandy clay containing 17th- to 19th-century pottery. However, the grave cut that had been excavated for SK[4] was indistinct, presumably because the insertion of grave cut [207] above had removed any clear evidence, and only the difference in the fills remained to distinguish the two separate graves. SK[4] was an adult of undeterminable age or sex buried within coffin [214] (Pl. 8). The skeleton was less than 24% complete and the bone was in poor condition, with only fragments of the long bones surviving. The coffin within which the skeleton had been buried was better preserved than coffin [215] above. The base and lower portion of the sides were only fragmentary but the upper parts of the sides were well preserved, clearly showing the outline of the coffin, which measured 1.90m long, 0.60m wide and 0.25m deep. The lid was partially preserved, although it had collapsed inwards. The wood of the coffin fragmented upon lifting and was deemed unsuitable for any further analysis so no samples were retained. A double row of copper-alloy upholstery studs were present around the entire outline of the coffin, a sample of which were retained. The outer row of these upholstery studs was fixed onto the top of the coffin's sides and the inner row was fixed around the edge of the upper surface of the lid. As with cut 108, the sandy clay beneath the coffin had been stained a dark blue-grey colour, presumably due to the leaching of organic matter into the clay.

Plate 9

Plate 9: Unexcavated coffin at limit of excavation

During excavation the eastern and western extents of grave cut [213] were clearly defined cut into the natural sandstone clay, though the northern and southern sides and base were not defined. Along the southern limit of the excavated area a clear grave cut, grave fill and partial outline of a preserved coffin could be seen within the section and at the base, overlain by grave fill (211) (Pl. 9). The close relationship between coffin [214] and the unexcavated coffin below again demonstrated that respect had been shown to the lowest coffin during the excavation of the grave cut for SK[4]. Along the northern limit of the excavated area a less clearly apparent grave cut and grave fill could be seen within the section and at the base, again overlain by grave fill (211). Although the line of the service trench went through the northern portion of the fill, observations during the watching brief confirmed that the service trench was not deep enough to disturb any burials present within this part of grave cut [213].

Grave [301]/(302)

During the watching brief on the excavation of the 1.00m wide and 1.00m deep service trench, a single feature [301], possibly representing a grave cut, was identified within the natural sandstone clay at the base of the service trench. This was a roughly oval-shaped cut aligned east to west, irregular at the east end and measuring 1.20m by 0.57m. The fill (302) consisted of grey-brown silty clay containing a single sherd of 18th- to 19th-century pottery. As this feature was at the lowest limit of the service trench it was not considered necessary to carry out any additional excavation. The east-west alignment suggests that the feature represented a grave cut, but the service trench was outside the known limit of the burial ground and ran along the northern boundary of the chapel yard in Pepper Alley.


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