Weekly insight

Regular insights from the A63 Castle Street archaeology team

A63 Castle Street archaeology - weekly insight

Published

25 Jan 2021

Friday 14 May - First archaeology presentation

Interested in archaeology? Our team of archaeologists will be hosting our first virtual presentation for the people of Hull on Wednesday 26 May.

They will be giving background to Trinity Burial Ground in Hull, the excavation, the post excavation analysis and there will be the chance to ask questions at the end.

The webinar will start at 5pm.

To attend the webinar please click this meeting link a few minutes before it is due to start. Please watch the 'How to attend a live event with Microsoft Teams' video which explains how to set up the session and how it works.

All attendees will be on mute but there is the option to post questions in the live question and answer session. This can be found on the right-hand side of the page.

Tuesday 11 May - Overcoming challenges part 2

Far from home

The Trinity Burial Ground excavation from an archaeological viewpoint is of great interest. It will be one of the largest post medieval cemeteries that has been excavated in the North of England. The data we generate from this project will help contribute to our understanding of the lives of people in 19th century Hull, but also be used to compare with data from other populations in the UK from the time. This exciting prospect has resulted in a horde of archaeologists from across the UK and beyond coming together to work on this special site. Working away from home for such a prolonged period of time and especially during a pandemic does however bring its own challenges, and the mental health of the team is a top priority for both Oxford Archaeology-Humber Field Archaeology and Balfour Beatty.

Imagine spending months away from home, working long hours, and being unable to see your friends and family in a city you barely know. This is the reality for many archaeologists across the country, not just here in Hull. Loneliness, homesickness, stress on personal relationships caused by being apart, depression and anxiety have all been present in the lives of the archaeologists during this project, but we are doing all we can to provide a safe and comfortable workspace and home away from home.

To help support staff, both Oxford Archaeology-Humber Field Archaeology and Balfour Beatty have provided trained mental health first aiders on site to talk to at any time. These mental health first aiders provide regular “drop in” sessions for people to attend, and we’ve had a few special mental health sessions for the entire team that have proved very useful. I myself have spoken to the mental health first aiders a few times while I’ve been on site and can attest to the professionalism of each and every one. Outside work hours, we have access to a counselling helpline that is available for all staff and their family members 24/7, 365 days a year.

By far the biggest thing that has helped keep on top of people’s mental health is the simple act of being there for each other. Working and living with the same people for months on end can cause friction, however it can also forge the strongest bonds of friendship. I have been amazed by how well people have come together and supported each other on site and off. Though the shadow of Covid-19 has loomed over us all for the duration of this project it hasn’t stopped us from coming together and supporting each other. A series of online quizzes hosted by the more proactive and technologically capable members of the team proved very popular and enjoyable. Sitting outside at tea breaks with a coffee and chatting together (at a safe distance), or simply listening on site when someone needs that have all contributed to maintaining the mental health of the team, and at the end of the project I personally know I will walk away with a host of amazing new friends and colleagues.

Conclusion

I hope this gives some insight into the challenges we face daily here on the A63 project and how by working together we have managed to overcome them. Naturally there are always new challenges each day, and not everyone is instantly resolvable, but we’ve got a great team out here and I’m proud of the way we have approached this project and with perseverance will see it through to completion and be able to tell you all the story of this incredible site.

Dan

Friday 30 April - Overcoming challenges part 1

Archaeologist Dan

Hi all, my name is Dan and I’m one of the fieldwork supervisors working on the Trinity Burial Ground site.  I’ve been working in commercial archaeology for about six years now, I was one of the archaeologists who worked on site in 2015 when the trial trenches were being excavated and it’s a great pleasure to be welcomed back to the main excavation work and see the site through to its completion.

While the other weekly insights have had you meet the team and showcase some of the amazing archaeology we are discovering, as well as giving behind the scenes looks at the post excavation analysis going on; I’m going to talk about some of the challenges we have faced over our time on site and how we have overcome them.

Archaeology -1 part digging three parts water management

One of the biggest challenges we have had on site was the issue of water.  As our excavations proceeded deeper and deeper it became very apparent that our working conditions would soon become very much soggier. Given the delicate nature of excavating human remains, one of the last things we want is for site to be underwater, and for the already hard clay to become a slippery sticky nightmare.  Small bones can become lost very easily in layers of clay, and the ground became hazardous to walk upon due to the risk of slipping.

waterlogged dig site

Thankfully, archaeologists are resilient and resourceful, and with the help of our principal contractor (Balfour Beatty), we were able to manage the water and the risks it posed so that works could resume safely.

One of the first measures taken was to lay down eco grid (gridded plastic squares that can be clipped together) to provide firm walkways for people to walk on. This stopped people from walking on treacherous ground, it also served to control where people could and could not walk, so that the archaeology was protected from being trampled on and lost.  When the eco grid became too clogged up with dirt to be useful, they were jet washed clean and fresh walkways constructed.

To deal with the water itself Balfour Beatty provided us with pumps and a team of workers to go round and pump away the worst of the water. 

Simultaneously a few brave archaeologists, who didn’t mind jumping in and bearing the brunt of the wet and the mud, worked furiously to clear areas of site so that large sumps could be dug.  These sumps helped drain water from higher areas of site and served as useful areas to channel water from other areas of site into to then be pumped off site.

Fortunately, with the weather improving and the ground now drying up again we can look forward to much drier conditions and archaeologists.

Getting heard

Communication is key they say and that is never more true than on large infrastructure projects like this where we have where we have scores of archaeologists, split into many teams. Simple miscommunications can lead to huge errors in our work that take time to fix, or if it relates to a health and safety matter endanger ourselves and others.

In order to minimise these risks Oxford Archaeology-Humber Field Archaeology and Balfour Beatty have several methods of getting information around site. The easiest way we communicate messages to staff is through morning briefings. These briefings let our teams know where they are working, who with and what other teams are up to and other important project wide messages.

Some messages cannot wait until morning to be addressed and for this, we use internal emails and a messaging group to keep everyone informed. The messaging group has the bonus of being a convenient place to group chat after hours, though strictly moderated and in line with company policy on dignity and respect in the workplace.

Balfour Beatty hold monthly meetings called “Voice meetings” and these are a chance for members of staff from all contractors on the project to get together and raise issues in a non-judgemental space that get passed on to management to deal with.  No management attend the meeting, and none of the issues are attributed to individuals.  At each meeting feedback from points raised in the previous meeting is given.

Through all these mechanisms we somehow manage to keep everyone well informed….that said I’m still waiting for someone to order new buckets in.

To be continued.

Friday 24 April - Radiography

Part of the skeletal analysis being undertaken at Hull Trinity Burial ground involves x-raying bones. Oxford Archaeology-Humber Field Archaeology are working in partnership with Reveal Imaging, a mobile radiography unit.

A radiography machine is brought to site to take digital x-rays of bones. The x-rays help us to diagnose trauma and diseases which cannot be identified just by looking at the bones in the lab.

Wayne prepares the radiography machine and bones for x-ray      Wayne examines a digital x-ray

So far, we have x-rayed bones from almost a hundred skeletons. If a skeleton has a broken bone, we can look at the x-ray immediately and see both how the bone broke, and how it has healed.

For example, in the next picture, we can see the left thigh bone has broken in a spiral pattern. The break has a line that encircles the bone shaft like the stripes on a barber pole or candy cane. In modern times this type of break is a very serious injury, usually caused by a car accident or high impact sports accident such as skiing or snowboarding.

healed spiral fracture in the left thigh

The person from Trinity Burial Ground might have sustained this injury falling off a horse or having an accident on a ship.

We can also use the x-rays to diagnose other diseases such as cancer.

The next image shows an x-ray of a skull. The black speckled areas are lesions found in a type of bone marrow cancer called multiple myeloma. Not all these lesions were visible when we looked at the skull in the laboratory. In the 19th century there was no cure for this disease. Now it is treatable with chemotherapy and steroids.

multiple myeloma (bone marrow cancer)

We have also x-rayed some of the coffin fittings found at the site. This helps us to see the shape and designs more clearly where they are corroded, as in the following images. This information can be used to date the coffin, as different designs were used at different times.

X-ray of the studded coffin lid of Jane Griswood      Coffin breast plate with angel design

The breast plate above shows an angel design which dates to between 1820 and 1858. As far as we know, it is the first example of this breast plate design found archaeologically in the UK.

Sam McCormick

Hello, I’m Sam McCormick and I’m one of the archaeologists who has been working in the tent on Castle Street to excavate the burials. Late one afternoon last week, I discovered this amazing coin purse. I found it in place by the right hip and leg of someone we initially think was an elderly male. The purse contained nine coins (eight large and one small) and were quite weighty so they could potentially be of good value. The bone toggle and a mother of pearl button were all that remained of the purse itself, which would have been made of leather that hasn’t survived in the ground. It’s just one of the many personal effects we’ve found with the burials on this site, along with things like buttons, hair combs and cufflinks.

This excavation at Trinity Burial Ground is brilliant as it’s the first major analysis of a post medieval society in the north of England. I also love the late 18th to 19th cemetery cemeteries. It was the age of industrial advances and medical science so the pathology on the people buried here is extremely fascinating! I first got into archaeology when I was three or four after my mum put me in front of the telly to keep me occupied. A show called ‘Meet the Ancestors’ was on and I was so enthralled I began to take my mum’s make up and mirrors and bury them in the garden, and then pretend I’d made a discovery. She regrets putting me in front of the telly since. And it just snowballed from then to where I am now.

Handful of coins      Coins laid out on slab

Here Ashleigh talks about the different coffin fittings we found while working at Trinity Burial Ground.

Stephen Rowland is a Project Manager at Oxford Archaeology, overseeing the archaeological work for OA with Humber Field Archaeology.

Project manager Stephen Rowland

Steve has a long-held fascination with funerary archaeology and human osteology and has previously managed archaeological investigations within the crowded post-medieval and industrial-period cemeteries at Coronation Street, South Shields (Tyne and Wear), Redearth, Darwen (Lancashire), and Swinton (Greater Manchester).

He’s been involved with the A63 scheme since 2014. And recently attended an online meeting of a group of volunteers working with Hull Minster. They are currently researching the history of the Minster’s main burial ground and the market at Trinity Square from home, with the aim of sharing the history, stories and rich history of the Minster and its surrounding area in a new visitor and heritage centre ready for when it can open to the public.

The volunteers had a lot of questions for Steve and here we share some of his answers with you.

How does this burial ground reflect the changing social structure of the town?

We think that the wealthiest people occupied plots in the more accessible parts of the burial ground. Their high-quality coffins, well-spaced graves, tombs, and elaborate monuments are generally found along paths emanating from an entrance on Castle Street within the eastern part of the area under investigation.

Within the western and far eastern parts of where we’re working, the situation is more varied. There are occasional good quality fittings, but the burials are denser, suggesting that these are less wealthy people. Nonetheless, many have been able to afford family plots and erect grave monuments.

Charting change within the burial ground is not that easy: it was in use for a relatively short time (less than 80 years), and the graves rarely produce chronologically distinct artefacts.

What are the most exciting things you’ve found?

We recently uncovered a mortsafe, which is an iron cage either built into or around a coffin and designed to prevent body snatching. We know from historical records that bodysnatching was happening at the time the cemetery was open, but this is our first clear evidence of preventative measures.

Iron Mortsafe built around a coffin

(Mortsafe)

Tying in with that was a grave that contained the remains of at least one person who had been anatomised (dissected for medical study). We’ve had numerous burials with evidence for autopsy (for example, removal of the top of the skull), but this individual looks to have been extensively examined, with various body parts displaced and often sawn through.

We had a well-preserved coffin inscription, with the name, age and date of death of the buried individual picked out on the surface of the coffin lid in copper studs. The use of the Latin term ‘obit’ rather than the far more common ‘died’ suggests that the family, and perhaps the elderly lady herself, were classically educated.

Coffin inscription in copper studs

(Coffin inscription)

It has also been nice to find several plate burials. It is thought that the plates originally held salt used to ward off evil and the devil in particular.

And what are the most common things you’ve found?

We’ve had a wide range of coffin fixtures and fittings, with occasional coffin plates as well as metallic lace trimmings and studs that were used to secure fabric coverings.

We’ve found a lot of clothes fastenings like buttons, and a reasonable amount of personal adornments and jewellery, which people were buried in.

A number of the burials have been found with coins over the eyes (to stop the disconcerting event of the eyelids popping open during viewings). Others have had coins that may have been in pockets, including several that are Dutch rather than British.

Is there anything you expected to find, but didn't?

We’ve had fewer lead coffins than expected – which is no bad thing.

We’ve found a lower density of burials than expected. We suspect that the poorest people were buried in the south of the burial ground, which is remaining untouched.

Have you been able to identify any particular people?

The East Yorkshire Family History Society recorded all the headstones in the 1980s, and we surveyed the site again prior to commencing the excavation. However, many of the grave plots have been reused multiple times, and the space between plots has been filled in with burials. This has made it very difficult to associate individual skeletons with the details recorded on nearby gravestones.

Moreover, whilst many of the burials have evidence of coffin plates that would have recorded their name, age and date of death, these details were generally painted onto very thin iron sheeting that has rarely survived intact. To date we have been able to identify only a handful of people from their coffin plates.

A notable exception was a burial covered with two iron plates. These coincided with the position of a headstone to William Watkinson, who died aged 32 years old in 1835 when a boiler fell on him. The plaque on the monument is thought to derive from the boiler, and it is possible that the iron plates encountered may be elements of the offending object.

Do you have any questions for Steve and the team?

If so, make sure to get in touch with us at A63CastleStreet.Hull@highwaysengland.co.uk and we’ll answer them here.

This weekend marks a historic moment as the latest census takes place on Sunday 21 March 2021. The census is a count of everyone in the country on a given day, and in the UK, it has been taken every 10 years since 1801 (except for 1941 due to the Second World War).

Trinity Burial Ground, belonging to the parish church of Holy Trinity (Hull Minster), was in use between 1783 and 1861. The 1841 census was the first to list the names of each individual, as well as their sex, occupation and age rounded down to the nearest five years, making it the earliest useful census for researchers matching up details recorded on monuments in the cemetery and in the burial register.

Burial records are often used to supplement the 19th century census returns to provide additional information for the family historian. In parish records, you may find the birth, marriage, and death of the person you are looking for but little else. With burial records you can be luckier. Trinity Burial Ground’s burial records offer the additional information of age at death, and the name of the informant declaring the death, usually a near relative. It’s with the opening of Hull General Cemetery in 1847 that burial records contribute much more information. As well as the name of the deceased and their age at death, the cemetery authority also recorded the last address of the deceased, the name of the informant, the cause of death, and who the minister was who attended the funeral. To the family historian, and to the social historian too, this is indeed a treasure trove to explore.

With the information provided, a researcher can identify and plot the spread of the cholera epidemic of 1849 that killed 3% of the town’s population. Using the addresses, the source of the epidemic can be identified, and its surge and ebb can be mapped out over the town. The social class of the victims can also be measured, as can the ages and the gender.

Parish burial register

(Parish Register)

From a preliminary study made in 2018 more women and children died from it than men. It’s difficult to say with certainty why that occurred but it probably lay in the fact that the women and children were more in contact with the dirty, infected water than their male counterparts. This is just one example where other historical records supplement the information recorded on the census returns. Burial records, rather than an end to research for the family historian, can often be the beginning of a whole new chapter.

East York Family History Society logo - green tree with eyfhs letters next to it

The East Yorkshire Family History Society (EYFHS) produced a book of the monumental inscriptions of the stones in Trinity Burial Ground Castle in 1985. Also included in the book are the parish register entries and a map showing the position of each stone at that time.

Another survey in 2015 showed that some of these stones have gone, making the society’s study an invaluable source of information that had otherwise been lost. The book is available from the EYFHS website shop page under Holy Trinity, Hull Castle Street Burial Ground.

Gravestone with faded inscription 

(Gravestone)  

Gravestone and monument recording

(Monument recording)

Among the Hull residents who will be captured in this year’s census will be the archaeologists living and working in the city. It’s intriguing to think that future historians might wonder why so many archaeologists were in Hull in 2021 and might make the connection with the excavation at Trinity Burial Ground, which will be recorded for posterity in the Humber Historic Environment Record.

To find out more about the East Yorkshire Family History Society, visit our website at www.eyfhs.org.uk or get in touch by emailing helpdesk@eyfhs.org.uk

Census records from 1841 to 1911 are available online and can be searched by name or browsed by place. More information can be found on the The National Archives website.

Did you know?
The 1911 census was the first where the form filled out by the householders has been kept on file. Prior to that, dedicated ‘enumerators’ collected census data by doing door-to-door interviews or transcribing information provided by the householder to a separate ‘enumeration’ book. This led to spelling mistakes due to bad handwriting or the enumerator mishearing what had been said, especially when they weren’t familiar with the local dialect.

Census data shows that the population of Hull grew rapidly between 1801 and 1901, Hull’s population increasing almost tenfold from 27,609 to 239,517. This was in part due to a change in boundary changes as the town grew, but also resulting from increased migration from elsewhere in the country and from abroad.

As part of British Science week we take a look at how we’re using technology to analyse the burials at Trinity Burial Ground.

British Science Week starts today. Here we look at how we’re using different types of technology to carry out our work at Trinity Burial Ground, Hull.

Hi, I’m Angela Fawcett and am currently employed as a Field Archaeologist with Humber Field Archaeology (HFA). They are a Hull based company, who work extensively within Hull and the East Riding and are working in collaboration with Oxford Archaeology North on the A63 project.

Angela - field archaeologist

I live in Beverley, East Yorkshire, and have always had an interest in history and archaeology. An advert to join East Riding Archaeological Society (ERAS) in 2009 is what started me on my current path.

The society is a mix of enthusiastic amateurs and professionals with a commitment to promoting the archaeology of East Yorkshire and a very good place to start if you are interested in local archaeology. I turned up with very little knowledge and no experience and was welcomed and encouraged.

We hold regular and varied lectures on national and regional projects (currently online). Post-pandemic, we will continue with our monthly Field Studies programme – sorting and recording pottery from Romano British kilns from Holme on Spalding Moor.

Members also receive the Society’s major publication, ‘The East Riding Archaeologist’ and regular newsletters. ERAS also organises day trips, weekends away and social events. Members can get involved in geophysical surveys and, sometimes, excavations. Visit www.eras.org.uk or our Facebook page if you are interested in joining us. Go on – have a look. Who knows where it will take you?

This inspired me to begin a six-year period of part-time study at The University of Hull whilst working as the Administrative Officer in a local Nursery School, volunteering at excavations in school holidays and continuing as a busy Committee Member with ERAS.

In 2012, halfway through my studies, I became a Commercial Field Archaeologist. I consider myself really lucky to live and work in Hull and the East Riding doing something I adore. I’ve worked on some amazing sites of national significance on the Wolds and Holderness – for example Iron Age chariot burials and early Anglo Saxon Cemetery and settlement sites. I have also worked extensively in Hull Old Town – including the Humber Street regeneration, the dry dock and the C4di building.

More recently I have been involved in Highways England funded developments at The South Blockhouse Project and at Hull Minster. The South Blockhouse Project invited community involvement and it was wonderful to see how enthusiastic the Hull population were about their amazing heritage – with many visiting weekly to see how we had progressed.

Angela working on site

After excavations at Hull Minster it was natural to want to be part of this project. Every regeneration project in Hull gives archaeologists an opportunity to explore previous generations. It’s an incredible opportunity to explore and understand the social and economic history of the population of Hull at a time when it was experiencing huge population expansion.

When restrictions are lifted I am looking forward to showing our visiting archaeologists the cultural sights and sounds of our lovely city.

Hi, my name's Nathan. I am one of the project supervisors, responsible for leading a team of archaeologists in the excavations out here at Trinity Burial Ground.

Here I talk about how I got involved in archaeology and what it’s like working on this project.

Archaeologist nathan

How did you become an archaeologist and why?

Having always had a passion for history I went to University of Chester to study history and archaeology, planning on becoming a teacher. However, I found that I much preferred being in the field getting dirty and handling history, than just simply reading about it in books.

When I completed my degree and having developed the itch to keep exploring the next archaeological horizon, I approached a unit that I had previously volunteered with and was fortunate enough to be given a paid post. And now four and a bit years later my career has brought me back home.

Have you worked on any other sites in and around Hull?

Unfortunately, no, this is my first time excavating within Hull, having spent most of my career in the south working on other large-scale projects such as HS2.

What's so interesting/exciting about this project?

As with any large-scale cemetery excavation it provides us with a snapshot of the population from the period and region concerned. Giving us useful information on the population, like where they came from, their diets, the diseases that afflicted them, possibly even how they died. With this data we can compare it to other cemeteries and see how the population differed across the country and even throughout time. This one just has the added bonus of being in the great city of Hull.

Archealogist nathan

What does this project mean to you as someone local to Hull?

For one thing, those individuals we are excavating from the burial ground are likely to be distant relatives, which gives it a unique connection, unlikely found on other sites.

But also, I know how important these road improvements are to the region and it gives me a sense of pride to know that the work I am doing will have a positive impact on the lives of people I know.

Lauren is one of the archaeologists working on the A63 Castle St scheme. Here she talks about how she got into archaeology and the work we’re doing in Trinity Burial Ground, Hull.

About weekly insight

Each week, our archaeological team and guest contributors will shed light on themes, personalities, discoveries and personal experiences which tell the story of Hull. 

We will be going behind the scenes on the archaeological work in the Castle Street area and finding out more about other recent digs and finds in and around the city.

We will dive into the archives to find out more about the transformation of Hull from a medieval market town to a commercial port at the centre of the Industrial Revolution to the celebrated modern city of culture we have today.

Behind these sweeping changes in the fabric of the city, we will also be homing in on individual human stories about the lives and livelihoods of people who have lived here through the ages, and exploring why their stories are important to Hullensians today.

These ‘Weekly Insights’ will be posted here every Friday, starting in February, and shared on our social media feeds. You can find us on Twitter and Facebook. If you would like to be updated on the latest news and information on the A63 archaeology, make sure to subscribe to our new email list.

We welcome your comments, feedback, and questions arising from the weekly insights. Please get in touch via email or social media.

Do you have any burning questions for our archaeological team?

Do you have any insights about Hull’s heritage which you would like to share?

Do you know of any historical mysteries that we could investigate further?

If you do, get in touch with us at: A63CastleStreet.Hull@highwaysengland.co.uk 

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