HS2 and Honouring the Ancient Dead
Having reviewed the HS2 project, the Government has recently announced that it will continue. Although the project is challenging from many points of view, HAD’s interest lies in the impact it will have on the thousands of burials of the ancient dead the route will pass over. The HS2 Act received royal assent in February 2017 and work has now started on Phase 1, the London to Birmingham section. This is said to be the largest peacetime infrastructure project ever to be completed in the UK. It is also the largest archaeological exploration ever in Britain, involving around 60 known sites in Phase 1 alone and employing a record number of archaeologists and heritage specialists from all across the country and beyond. More information about this huge project and HS2’s approach to the ancient dead can be found in this link: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/672385/E12_-_Burial_Grounds_v1.4.pdf
Further general information, videos and a map showing the 13 key archaeology sites in Phase 1 and work soon to be carried out is provided here: https://www.hs2.org.uk/building-hs2/archaeology/
HS2 have made their intention clear, which is that, wherever possible, ‘all artefacts and human remains will be treated with the dignity, care and respect that they deserve’. HS2 has also stated they intend working with relevant partners as the project proceeds.
Three known burial grounds are currently under investigation – St James’s Gardens Euston, Park Street Gardens Birmingham and St Mary’s Stoke Mandeville. Over 20,000 burials have been removed from the ground so far in Phase 1. As recognised burial grounds, these are being dealt with according to an agreement with the Church of England. Human remains that do not come under the aegis of the Church of England, from prehistoric to post-medieval date, have also been identified at 10 sites. Their treatment is intended to follow archaeological ‘best practice’.
St James’s Gardens Euston was the former burial ground of St James’s Church, Piccadilly, which was some distance from the church itself. In January 2019 archaeologists discovered the long lost remains of the explorer Captain Matthew Flinders, which were identified from his lead coffin plate. Flinders was the first known person to sail around Australia, confirming it as a continent. He popularised its name, and in turn ‘Flinders’ is associated with many places in that country today. In response to requests from the Lincolnshire Diocese, the local community and Flinders’ descendants, his final resting place will be the Church of St Mary and the Holy Rood in Donington, near Spalding, Lincolnshire, where he was baptised, and many members of his family are buried.
The location of the other reburials from St James’s Gardens Euston is due to be announced later in 2020. HS2 is required to work with the Church of England on the reburial of everyone exhumed from Christian burial grounds and to obtain their advice on suitable reburial sites. In theory, all those exhumed from Christian burial grounds along the HS2 route must be reburied together ‘as a congregation’ in a suitable consecrated place, with a memorial. In the case of Captain Flinders, however, an unusual application was made by the Diocese of Lincoln to the Diocese of London to rebury just Captain Flinders in Donington, Lincolnshire. The Chancellor of the London Diocese – in which Captain Flinders was buried – agreed that individual circumstances justified a departure from the Church of England’s general agreed rule of reburial.
HAD will provide further updates on burials excavated along the HS2 route as they become known, and their subsequent treatment.