Excavations in the gardens at the eastern end of Leicester Cathedral (below right), carried out by University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) in advance of redevelopment work at the Old Song School, have resumed following the excavation of over 100 burials last winter.
Formerly part of the churchyard of St Martin’s parish church (raised to cathedral status in 1927), the site will see the construction of a new heritage centre, funded by a £4.5 million grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund as part of Leicester Cathedral Revealed, a wide-ranging restoration project.
‘It’s an interesting one for us because it is in the conservation area of the city, so we don’t often get to look in this part of town,’ John Thomas, Deputy Director of ULAS, told CA.
So far, the team has unearthed 124 burials, dated – from nameplates – to between 1738 and 1855. ‘Middle-class business owners seems to be what we are getting at the minute,’ said Mathew Morris, a Project Officer at ULAS who is leading the excavations. Four individuals have been identified, including a blacksmith, a glazier, and one Anne Barratt – a ‘gentlewoman’ from a wealthy family of hosiers, he said.
Work is only just starting, though, and John said that current estimates suggest around 800 burials could still be left to excavate.
‘Stratigraphically, we’re probably going back into the 17th century at this point as well,’ Mathew said, ‘but then we’re expecting burials could potentially go back in date to the late Anglo-Saxon period.’
ULAS is collaborating with colleagues from the university’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History, as part of a wider project looking at tobacco use between the 15th and 18th centuries. Osteologist Dr Sarah Inskip, a UKRI Future Leaders Fellow who will lead this study, said: ‘The ability to assess individuals from one location over such a long time period will allow us to see how the lives of Leicester people changed with major social upheaval and transitions, such as epidemic disease, the arrival of new global commodities such as tobacco, and industrialisation.’
All individuals will be carefully reburied following completion of the research work.