Grisly find by drains workmen

When engineers began digging up Reepham's roads for drainage works the last thing they expected to find were medieval skeletons. But more than 30 full or partial skeletons have been uncovered since the middle of February beneath Church Street.

When engineers began digging up Reepham's roads for drainage works, they found human remains.

Since the middle of last month, 43 full or partial medieval skeletons have been uncovered beneath Church Street.

Rod Kelly, senior design engineer, said: “We were a little surprised, to say the least.

“Even though we were next to a church, you do not expect to see skeletons under a road.

“The first bones we found were not an intact skeleton but a series of assorted bones. Now we have found 43 full or partial skeletons that were all about 30cm or 50cm into the ground.”

The skeletons are believed to be part of a graveyard that once extended beyond the current walls of the churchyard surrounding St Mary's Church.

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David Whitmore, archaeology manager of NAU Archaeology, said: “This is the first time people have realised they were there.

“It seems the churchyard was made smaller when the road was put around it. We think the road is from the 16th century or earlier. The skeletons are obviously a lot older.

“Earth would have been removed to put in the road and that's why the graves are only 30cm to 50cm below the ground now.”

He said there could be up to 60 skeletons under Church Street and possibly more skeletons under the road on the other side of the church.

The law requires the graves to be excavated properly and away from public view. Once the drainage engineers have dug trenches, archaeologists are excavating the skeletons before the engineers carry on with their work. People are being asked not to go and look.

The bones will be analysed to find out the person's sex and age and if they died of a disease.

Churchwarden Rachel Richmond said the skeletons would be reburied in consecrated ground.

Three churches, including St Mary's, once stood in the Reepham's churchyard. The others were St Michael's, which is now the church hall, and All Saints, which was burned down during Henry VIII's reign.

On January 15, engineers began a 12-week project in Reepham to install a new storm water drainage system on Church Street, Norwich Road, Church Hill, Market Place and Ollands Road.

Engineers now estimate the project could take 15 weeks, but this may change if more skeletons are found.

Work on the Church Hill and Norwich Road section, which was due to start on February 26, should now start on Monday and last two weeks.

Work on the Church Hill, Market Place and Ollands Road section, which was due to start this Monday, should now start on April 2 and last for three weeks.