Headstone placed for 700-year-old “unknown friends”

A commemorative headstone was yesterday placed on the grave of Reepham's 'unknown friends' – scores of 700-year-old skeletons which were dug up by workmen.

The remains of 63 bodies, believed to have been buried in the 14th century, were uncovered during work to build a new storm drain in Church Street in 2007.

The disturbance of the bones struck a chord within the community, who regarded the bodies as families of fellow townspeople rather than simple historical relics.

It inspired a poignant re-burial ceremony at St Mary's and St Michael's churchyard in June, after a moving service attended by more than 140 people.

And yesterday, the skeletons' final resting place was marked with a Yorkstone headstone, paid for with �3,000 of donations from individuals, the town council and the Reepham Society.

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The headstone was designed by local stone-carver Teucer Wilson. The inscription, in appropriately medieval lettering, reads: 'Here lie unknown local friends from the 14th century, laid to rest by the people of Reepham in June 2010. Their souls are known by God.'

Among those who gathered for the commemoration service was Sue Page, chairman of Reepham's Parochial Church Council, who said: 'The kind people of Reepham were really very moved and affected by the discovery of these bones, and having gone through that very special service in June they wanted to mark the grave.

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'The only reason the headstone is there now is because of the way the town responded – the church has acted as an agent of the people of Reepham. I am sure it will bring lots of visitors from the town.

'I think it is a rather special stone – very distinctive and very beautiful. It is also the first time in many years that an upright headstone has been erected in Reepham churchyard, as it is closed for burials.'

Also at the service was the Rector of Reepham, the Rev Margaret Dean, and Jolyon Booth, the chairman of the Reepham Society.

The grave is in a quiet corner of the grounds of the 13th-century church. It is thought the bones were originally buried in part of a much larger graveyard once belonging to the building, where the people may have worshipped.

An archaeologists' report says the bones revealed an unusually high proportion of the people suffered with conditions like osteoarthritis, which could have indicated a hard life working in Norfolk's fields.

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