Recent findings


25 Jan 2021

Our 70-strong team of archaeologists working in Trinity Burial Ground have started piecing together intriguing clues from the past.

We’ll be documenting some of the interesting artefacts found while working on site so why not take a look below at our recent findings.

Mother of pearl knife handle

Mother of pearl is a smooth iridescent substance which forms the inner layer of mollusc shells, particularly pearl oysters. Mother of pearl was very fashionable in the nineteenth century and was used to make a wide range of items including buttons, inkwells, fans, snuff boxes, jewellery and this small engraved knife small. It has a line of circles down the centre which is bordered by a fanned shell design.

Mother of pearl was harvested and transported all around the world, and especially western Australia during the Victorian period.

The handle is most likely to have been attached to a button hook, for fastening gloves or boots closed with small buttons or a sewing tool. These often were bought in sets containing both tools. An alternative use may have been as the handle of a small pickle fork.

Do you have any memories or photos of tools made from Mother of pearl you want to share? Maybe you have similar family heirlooms or conducted in depth research in to Mother of pearl artefacts from this period. Email us at to share your stories with Highways England.

Mother of pearl knife handle example 1. . . Mother of pearl knife handle example 2

Beardman or bellarmine jug sherd

This is a sherd, or fragment, of a salt-glazed stoneware pottery vessel with a glossy textured surface formed by throwing salt into the kiln during the firing process.

This sherd is decorated with an open-mouthed bearded face, typical of bellarmine jugs manufactured in the 16th and 17th centuries, which was usually on the neck of the vessel. The jugs were usually used for storing and serving beer and wine. The bearded faces are thought to represent the ‘wild man’ found in European folklore of the time.

Bellarmine sherd front      Beardman sherd back

Shroud pin

We’ve found bronze pins in many of the graves. These would have been used to fasten shrouds or clothing. During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, pins were made by hand by drawing brass wire to reduce the diameter, cutting to the desired length, and grinding both ends to sharpen. The pin heads were created by winding a short length of thinner wire and clamping it to one end. After manufacture, brass pins were usually tinned to create a more attractive and smoother surface finish.

The first pin-making machines were introduced in about 1830, and for the first time the pins were made in one piece with dies shaping one end of the shank into the head.

Shroud pin

Whale bone

Whaling was a prosperous industry in Hull in the early 19th century.

Whaling voyages from Hull produced nearly 5,000 tonnes of oil a year, which was used to light lamps and make soap.

Whale baleen, the mouth bristles used to filter plankton, was in high demand for its strength and flexibility. It was used to produce corset stays, crinoline petticoats, umbrella ribs, fishing rods and riding crops. Larger bones were used as gateposts and arches, or ground into fertiliser.

We’ve found several fragments of whale bone at Trinity Burial Ground as well as this polished whalebone tool, although we’re not sure of its purpose. 

Fragments of whale bone      polished whale bone tool

Napoleon III coin

This bronze five centimes coin was issued by the French Second Empire in 1855. The front or obverse features the portrait of Napoleon III, facing left, and the reverse shows an eagle.

This pattern with Napoleon appears on bronze French coins from 1852 to 1865. The letter ‘B’ also appears on the reverse and indicates that this coin was minted in Dieppe. At the time this coin was produced, Britain was allied with France against Russia during the Crimean War (1853 - 1856).

Napoleon III coin

Shell hair comb

This comb was found in-situ underneath the skull of a skeleton. The comb looks to be made of ‘tortoise’ shell, which was more usually sea turtle shell. Horn was cheaper and was often used to achieve a similar mottled effect, and poorer women would have used wooden combs to hold their hair in place.

Our finds team report it was hard to clean because it’s so fragile, and mud had to be carefully cleaned out from between the teeth.

shell hair comb      shell hair comb

A sight of beauty

A conch is a sea snail and their spiral-shaped shells have long been prized for their beauty and use as a wind instrument.

Conchology, the study of mollusc shells, was very popular in the 19th century among natural history enthusiasts and merchants imported shells to meet the growing demand.

At the moment, we’re not sure where this shell has come from but it is not native to the UK. We wonder whether someone brought it to Hull from their travels as a present or souvenir.

Do you have one at home? Does it have a special significance to you?

Conch shell      Conch shell

Hair comb found

This hair comb was found by the head of a woman, indicating she was buried with it holding up her hair.

Victorian women usually start wearing their hair up after marrying. Initially, the comb was thought to have been made from tortoiseshell, but we now think it may be made from sheep’s horn which was commonly used for many purposes as a hard malleable material before plastic replaced it.

The horn would have been soaked, flattened out, cut to shape and the comb teeth sawn. This woman’s burial was found at the eastern end of the burial ground, where we appear to have the graves of the more well-off middle classes.

The working class women seem to be buried at the western end and were likely to have worn wooden combs in their hair, which haven’t survived in the ground.

Do you recall any family members wearing their hair up with combs like these? Do you have any photos of Victorian relatives showing how hair was styled in the 19th century?

Tortoise shell hair comb with some sections broken      Hair comb with some sections broken, lying on soil

Plates found in burials

These plates are typical of the everyday tableware people would have used in their homes in the 19th century. However, these examples were found alongside burials at Trinity Burial Ground. They would have held salt, commonly believed to offer protection from the devil. The plates would usually have been removed after the funeral service so it is unusual to find them in the ground. At Trinity Burial Ground we have found four with different designs. 

These are two close ups of the plates, one has a floral motif and the second is a willow pattern plate.

Do you recognise the patterns on these plates? Do you have any examples of similar tableware at home?

Plate found at Trinity Burial Ground

Plate found at Trinity Burial Ground

Do you remember shoes like this?

This shoe was found by one of the tombs. It has a well worn sole and there would have been a heel - there are nail holes where it would have been.

There has been some debate about how old this shoe is as we’re fairly confident it isn’t contemporary with the Victorian burial ground. We suspect it is 20th Century because the sole looks to be rubber - perhaps dating to the 1950s/60s.

Can anyone help us with dating this shoe? Do you recall shoes like this?


Sealed bottle

A sealed bottle has been found containing a brown liquid. The bottle is glass, and says ‘Hull Infirmary’ on the side. It looks to have been deliberately buried within a grave. We’re looking into whether the contents can be tested to find out what it is.

Have you come across chemist paraphernalia dispensed by Hull Infirmary? Perhaps you’ve uncovered a glass bottle like this from your garden or you’ve spotted an earthenware ointment jars on a shelf of antiques?

Jewellery and coins found

We’ve found a pair of coins, issued in the Netherlands, from a burial. They were found where a trouser pocket might once have been.

Do you have Dutch connections and live in Hull today? Can you tell us anything more about Willelm I?

Two coins found in a burial, on a man's palm

This collection of small purple beads were found with one of the graves. And we found this gold wedding band with hallmarks. Do you recognise the hallmarks?

Small purple beads, some whole and some broken      Gold wedding band

This copper-alloy chain-linked cufflink has been found. It has a design still slightly visible which was worn by navy officers.

Do you or anyone else you know have cufflinks with naval associations?

Old-looking copper-alloy cufflinks in a man's hand

Studded coffin plate

A preserved coffin inscription, with the name and age of the buried individual picked out on the surface of the coffin lid in copper studs.

It recorded 79-year-old Jane Griswood (died 2 November 1834). The use of studwork for recording the biographical information (rather than condensed information, such as initials) seems both unusual and a little outdated for the time of burial, as was the use of ‘obt’ rather than ‘died’ as seen more commonly on the painted coffin plates.

We’ve been able to match the data to a burial register record, where the surname is actually spelled incorrectly as Griswold rather than Griswood!

Is your surname Griswood? And are your family from Hull? If so, let us know if you think you may be a relation of Jane Griswood.

Studded coffin plate

Floral tribute

We found this collection of plant remains preserved on top of a coffin from one of the tombs excavated this week. The floral tribute was laid on top of the coffin plate. The consensus is that it is a variety of bilberry, probably cowberry (or lingonberry).

Have you spotted any growing locally in Hull?

Floral tribute

Brick-lined grave built in the shape of a coffin

We have excavated our first shaft grave, which was brick-lined and capped by stone. The coffin plate had largely disintegrated but the coffin grips, each with a plate depicting cherubs, were well preserved.

This is an ornate grip plate from the brick-lined grave. The design includes two winged cherubs a cartouche and foliage.

Have you spotted images of cherubs like this in and around Hull? On grave stones, building façades, church carvings? If you have, share your photos with us. Tell us where you took them and we’ll share them next week.


This floral brooch was found within a grave, and has been expertly cleaned in our finds department. It doesn’t appear to have a pin or hinge, but it could have been attached to clothing by a ribbon. The central stone is probably agate polished into a cabochon.

Clay pipe

This clay pipe features running footballers. It was common for pipe makers in the latter half of the nineteenth century to including sporting motifs, coinciding with the rise of amateur and professional sports. Football and cricket were commonly featured.


We found this small domino while sieving the excavated topsoil, barely an inch long and made from animal bone.

We’re not sure how it came to be in the graveyard, but it's tempting to imagine a game being played out on the flat slab capping one of the high-status tombs. Others have suggested that sailors used dominoes as a form of personal accounting among their ship mates. 

Small domino piece

Clay pipe bowl

We also found this in the topsoil, a substantially complete clay pipe bowl.

The headdress and moustachios would suggest that this represented a Turk's head, a popular design in the later 19th and early 20th century.

Such pipes were made in moulds and this example retains some hand-painted details. In this case there is no evidence for sooting in the bowl, indicating that it may have suffered a mishap before it could be used.

Clay pipe bowl in the shape of a face with a headdress

Medieval floor tile fragments

These are fragments of medieval floor tiles. They have been decorated with stamp leave impressions into which very runny clay has been poured. The one on the right seems to preserve the rear end of a heraldic beast, perhaps a lion. Such tiles would have been set to form geometric patterns in parts of high status and religious buildings.

These ones may have originated from Holy Trinity Church (Hull Minster): it is said that some of the arisings from the excavation of the crypt in the 19th century were deposited at Castle Street.

Fragments of medieval floor tiles

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