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Treasure from Blackburn’s past uncovered

Published Tuesday 26 January 2016 at 15:59

A hoard of historic finds has been discovered during an archaeological dig in Blackburn.

The treasure includes a full set of Georgian coins, jewellery and beads from the 1800s, and religious artefacts. They were uncovered during archaeological work at St Peter’s Burial Ground in Blackburn.

Work was taking place as part of the construction of the Freckleton Street Link Road in Blackburn. The £12m project will regenerate the Freckleton Street area and complete an important section of Blackburn’s Town Centre Orbital Route.

Once complete, it will make way for a new highway built on a central alignment from Wainwright Bridge to emerge onto King Street, directly opposite Montague Street.

Headland Archaeology Ltd was commissioned to undertake a programme of archaeological investigations at St Peter’s burial ground. The work was commissioned by Capita on behalf of Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council.

St Peter’s burial ground was opened in 1821 and saw intense use until around 1860. Headland’s work included the recording and removal of visible memorial stones; sensitive exhumation of around 30% of the burial ground and the full excavation of the foundations of St Peter’s Church.

An integrated team of up to 35 archaeologists, surveyors, osteologists, exhumation specialists, and civil engineers had to work in concert to complete the excavation safely and on time under often challenging ground conditions.

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Key finds included:

  • 176 memorial stones were fully documented, recorded three-dimensionally and moved to a safe part of the site.
  • The documentation has already produced interesting statistics about the parishioners buried here, including the most common names – Elizabeth and Mary for girls, John and Thomas for boys.
  • There are also indications that one of the individuals was a soldier injured in the Crimean War, and may even have been treated by Florence Nightingale.
  • The church was built in 1819-1821 and would have seated 1,500 parishioners. It became dilapidated in the mid-20th century and was demolished to ground level in 1976.
  • The excavations uncovered the ceremonial corner stone at the base of the foundations, in which a small time capsule was found. The time capsule contained a single example of each of the sixteen coins in circulation at the time of construction, and may be one of the only examples in the UK recovered from a church of this period.
  • Colourful glass beads and jewellery were also found in several plots.
  • In total, 1,967 individual burials were exhumed during the excavation of around 400 burial plots. Each was carefully cleaned, documented and recorded 3-dimensionaly, before being lifted, and assessed. Around 800 of the bodies were children aged less than 6 years old.
  • No archaeological evidence was found for any human activity pre-dating the construction of the church.
  • The Bishop of Blackburn will hold a memorial service this summer and re-burials will take place in a different area of the graveyard.

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Councillor Phil Riley, Blackburn with Darwen Council’s Executive Member for Regeneration, said:

These finds are fascinating and show us some really interesting pieces of Blackburn history from the Georgian era onwards. Projects and discoveries like this are rare in the borough so it is an exciting opportunity to look into people’s lives back then, especially as many of the graves dated from the time around the Industrial Revolution which was of great importance in the borough.

The new link road is an important part of the completion of the Orbital Route and will open up the area for regeneration, bringing new businesses and jobs to the borough.”

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