Cross Street Chapel

Manchester's Metrolink 'Second City Crossing' passes along Cross Street and its construction brought about the need to remove the remains from the graves which were left under the roadway and pavement when the road was widened in 1845. There was an exploratory excavation in 2013 which confirmed the graves to still be present followed by excavations in 2014-15 to remove the remains. These were reinterred at Southern Cemetery, where remains from the old graveyard (or at least that part which was inside the chapel boundary) were buried in 1996 when it was cleared to build the present chapel/office building.

The number of graves present and the number of occupants within them was the subject of some speculation. A figure of around 100 burials in some 29 graves was suggested but the records were recognised to be imperfect and the final number proved considerably in excess of this estimate.

The impending work was mentioned in an article in the Manchester Evening News on 21 August 2014 though the headline 'More than 100 bodies found beneath Metrolink Second City crossing route ' suggests misleadingly that the discovery of these remains came as a surprise, when their presenc was well known.

The Archaeological Excavation at Cross Street Chapel

The results of the excavations was the subject of a talk on 3 Novmber 2017

The presentation, to a large audience, by Martin Lightfoot and Mark Bell of CFA Archaeology was introduced by Cody Coyne, the Minister of Cross Street Chapel and described the work undertaken by CFA during the clearance of part of the old chapel graveyard in preparation for the construction of the new Metrolink tram line.

Cross Street Chapel opened in 1694 and although early burial registers have been lost, probably had a graveyard from the outset and this continued in use until it was closed under the Burial Acts of the mid-1850s. The chapel survived until 1940 when it was destroyed in the blitz. A new chapel was built on the old foundations and opened in 1959 but this was demolished in the 1990s and the present office building erected, within which the new chapel was accommodated. The new building occupied the whole of the chapel grounds and the human remains were removed from the graveyard to Southern Cemetery at this time. This work was, unfortunately, not undertaken under archaeological supervision, so there is little information about those buried.

Not all of the remains were, however, removed. During the 19th century, successive widening of Cross Street had taken place such that its pavement now passed directly in front of the chapel. This was achieved by lowering the ledger gravestones and simply constructing the road and pavement over the top of them.

The new Metrolink second city crossing passes in front of Cross Street Chapel and its construction necessitated a solid foundation. CFA Archaeology were engaged initially to confirm that the graves were still in situ and to determine their extent. Two trial excavations were made in October 2013 which showed that there were two rows of graves extending under the pavement and roadway. This accorded with documentary information, particularly a graveyard plan made in 1782.

CFA were then engaged to oversee the exhumation of the remains, obtain dating evidence and report on their findings. The exhumations took place over 2014-15 under a large tented structure which provided both privacy for the works and protection from the elements for the team of up to 10 archaeologists working on site at any given time. The remains were removed for reburial at Southern Cemetery. Since the graves were known to be family graves, efforts were made to ensure that remains from the same grave were reinterred together as a family group. Remains were, however, not removed where the shallowest burial was deeper than 2 metres, at which depth they would not pose a problem for the subsequent Metrolink construction.

The excavations uncovered 70 family graves containing 241 complete skeletons of which 71 were of adult males and 68 adult females, the remainder being children. In addition some 17,679 fragments of bone were recovered which after analysis will also be buried at Southern Cemetery. It was possible to name fifty of these from surviving coffin plates but using the burial registers, gravestone inscriptions (and transcriptions of these made in 1854 by Thomas Baker) a total of 172 were named with some confidence. The lack of burial registers before 1785 proved a particular problem in this part of the work; an infant coffin with the initials 'NF' and the date 1774 providing a frustrating example which might easily have been solved had the register been available.

Since Cross Street was known to have a relatively prosperous congregation it had been expected that there would be a large number of lead or lead-lined coffins. This was not, however, the case and only a small number were found. Most wooden coffins had perished but some, such as the double coffin of Joseph Mason were well preserved. This particular example showing ornate nailing. Some remains of shrouds and flowers (including lavender) were also found. Examination of the remains also provided some evidence of medical issues. In some cases there was evidence of trauma which had healed and in others evidence of complaints such as scurvy and rickets.

The gravestones, none of which was claimed by descendants and many of which were in poor condition, were photographed and then pulverised (as legally required). The coffin plates have been deposited with the Museum of Science and Industry as will documentation of the work. A report will be published as part of the Greater Manchester's Past Revealed series, once analysis work has been completed; possibly early in 2018.

Thomas Baker's 1854 transcription of the memorials is available in Manchester Archives (ref GB127.MS 929.5 M28) and will be indexed and added to the society's memorial index database later in 2018.

[The above article was originally published in The Manchester Genealogist Vol 54 Issue 1, 2018]

John Marsden 28 September 2018