Reader’s letter - Gorleston Wetherspoon crypt discovery prompts childhood memories of human bones in the classroom

Work has halted on the site of the WIlliam Adams in Gorleston. Picture: David Hannant

Work has halted on the site of the WIlliam Adams in Gorleston. Picture: David Hannant - Credit: Archant

Reading about the discovery of human remains on the site of the new Wetherspoon's development in Gorleston High Street reminded me of an incident when I was a pupil at Cliff Park Secondary Modern School in the 1960s.

In my second year,September 1961 to July 1962, a new science teacher had been appointed, Miss Pauline James. I believe she was newly qualified but she was a very charismatic and enthusiastic teacher. The subject was timetabled as General Science and to start with Miss James covered some chemistry and then we moved onto biology.

An artificial human skeleton hanging in the science lab on a stand by a hook and spring was used to demonstrate human anatomy. But in 1962 Miss James showed the class a newly acquired real human skull that had been recently dug up during some building and excavation work in Priory Street. There were several other human bones in the hoard and many of the class were excited by this. The interior of the skull was full of sandy soil and I believe this was dug or washed out. The skull still had teeth and I do not recall any decay in them.

Quite how the school acquired the skull and bones is not known to me and they could have been passed on through official council channels. However a group of Cliff Park pupils made an after school visit to the Priory Street site that evening. I recall that this was in daylight so I suspect this was late winter or early spring. It could not have been in the autumn of 1962 as by my third year at Cliff Park we were back in the hands of the head of the science department, Mr Pickup.

I recall that the building work in Priory Street was on the north side of the street on the corner of Church Road and were a development of council flats. The site had been mechanically excavated and large heaps of sandy soil were dotted around. The heaps contained thousands of human bones and there were plenty of souvenirs to be found. Many of the bones were smashed and I could not find a complete skull, but I did find parts of skulls. My best find was a broken part of a skull complete with eye sockets and teeth along with some ribs, smaller bones from hands and feet and loads of vertebrae. I carefully placed my finds in my bicycle saddlebag and headed for home.

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My mum did not share my enthusiasm for my finds and I was told to not bring them indoors again. So the bones lived in the garage on an old Victorian bureau that I was where I did my chemistry experiments. They looked quite good standing on the dark wood of the bureau. I do not recall what became of the bones but assume my parents threw them away when they moved home.

In more recent times I have reflected on this and find it very odd that a grave yard that was a site of historic interest was allowed by the local authority to be desecrated in this way. Today one newt will bring a building development to a halt, so what happened at Priory Street in 1962? Why was this allowed to happen?

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I recall that before the building work commenced, the north side of Priory Street contained a number of small terrace type houses, probably built in the nineteenth century. The builders of these earlier properties must have found human bones while digging the footings. The number of bones dug up in 1962 was enormous. To me this was not a small village grave yard but something much bigger. Today there must still be buried human remains in the Priory Street/Gardens area and I wonder if these newly discovered bones on the Wetherspoon's site are anything to do with the ones found in the 1960s in Priory Street?

Paul Godfrey,

Former Gorleston schoolboy

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