Woman researching family history finds more than she bargained for in Norwich churchyard - 115-year-old human remains

St Margaret's Church and graveyard at Old Catton. Picture: Denise Bradley St Margaret's Church and graveyard at Old Catton. Picture: Denise Bradley

Monday, July 14, 2014
3:22 PM

An apology has been issued after human remains more than 115 years old were discovered lying on the ground in a Norwich churchyard - including a skull fragment and jaw bone.

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A photo of the bones discovered at St Margaret’s Church, in Old Catton, by Kirsty Olley; Photo credit: Submitted.A photo of the bones discovered at St Margaret’s Church, in Old Catton, by Kirsty Olley; Photo credit: Submitted.

The find was made at St Margaret’s Church, in Old Catton, after a woman from Thorpe Marriott visited to find out more about her family history.

But Kirsty Olley, of Steeple Chase, got more than she bargained for when she stumbled upon part of a skull, half a jaw with teeth still attached and several other bones lying on the surface of the ground.

She described the bones found at the back of the church, off Church Street, as “quite obviously human”.

She added: “It was quite obvious by the state of the churchyard that they had recently had some ground works, but to find human remains of these poor people who were laid to rest many years ago was without a doubt disturbing and very upsetting.”

The parochial church council (PCC) of St Margaret’s Church have since apologised on behalf of their contractors.

Building work began in January this year to create a new a toilet and kitchenette and to make the building more suitable for use by the community.

A spokesman for the PCC said it was “regrettable” that procedures had not been followed and added that the contractor was “extremely apologetic” for the oversight.

She said: “While most of the work was carried out within the church building, there was some excavation, mainly in front of the church entrance.

“Under Church of England regulations, excavated soil from a consecrated churchyard cannot be removed and has to remain in the churchyard. Some may be re-used for backfilling, but the remainder has to be stockpiled and then spread and levelled within the churchyard.”

No bones had been discovered during the excavations at the south or north side of the church, but during the spreading and levelling of the excavated material some bone fragments were discovered.

“The procedure for dealing with bone fragments is that they should be collected by the contractor, bagged, labelled and carefully stored for subsequent re-interment,” she said. “In this instance, the fragments were collected, but not bagged and stored. This is regretted by the contractor, as well as the PCC.”

She added that the bone fragments were collected, bagged and removed from the churchyard within two hours, and are now securely stored.

The area of excavation has not been used for burials since 1899 and once the contractor confirms that no bone fragments remain, the bones will all be returned to the church and an archaeologist consulted.

They will then be re-interred.

Work will be completed by the end of this week.

• Have you discovered something interesting while researching your family tree? Email reporter donna-louise.bishop@archant.co.uk.

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