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Sandwich: Bones, coins and pottery unearthed at St Peter’s Church dig

By Eleanor Perkins

A moment of respectful silence over bones uncovered in an archaeological dig have concluded a potentially “game changing” project in Sandwich.

The work at St Peter’s Church, saw the Canterbury Archeological Trust and Dover Archeological group uncover medieval tiles and a segment of pottery believed to date to the early 8th century.

It was at the garden that covered what was the church’s South Aisle, destroyed in the earthquake of 1661 when the tower collapsed on it.

Volunteers found a variety of goods including coins and pottery

Volunteers found a variety of goods including coins and pottery

The work finished at the weekend after five previous weekends of digging and rubble clearing.

The project was to determine what lay below ground ahead of a scheme to build visitor toilets adjoining the church.

Large quantities of human bones and bone fragment were unearthed along with numerous fascinating objects, such as old coins, floor tiles, clay pipes, oyster shells, and shards of pottery and glass.

The latter were removed, cleaned and set aside for further study.

Bone fragments were carefully collected and set aside for a respectful reburial.

After a respectful moment of silence from volunteers the collected bones were covered with soil.

After a respectful moment of silence from volunteers the collected bones were covered with soil.

Volunteer Jim Marshall said: “A study of parish records dating back between 1538 when the register commenced and 1854 when burials stopped, indicates there have been just under 12,000 burials in St Peter’s churchyard alone, answering for the many bone fragments discovered.

“It would seem that over the years when a new burial was required, whatever bones that lay below were dug up and unceremoniously tossed aside.”

To make up for that, when the dig was declared officially over on Sunday afternoon, the volunteers assembled at the back of the dig and placed the bone fragments around the undisturbed vault of Henry Pemble A.M.

Inscribed on his tombstone standing above his vault states that he was ‘Formally Principle of the Royal Naval School On Its First Institution and Many Years Rector of This Parish.’

He will now preside over the bones safe keeping for eternity.

Volunteer digger Gareth inspects the 20th century heating plant which has been left exposed and will be removed allowing space to construct toilets

Volunteer digger Gareth inspects the 20th century heating plant which has been left exposed and will be removed allowing space to construct toilets

Paul Bennett, head of the Canterbury Archeological Trust, thanked all of the volunteers who had worked so hard on the project and asked for a moment of respectful silence over the bones which would now receive more respect than they had in the past.

With that, soil was carefully placed over the bones and all of the uncovered tombs and excavations at the back of the aisle.

Gabriella Misuriello, conservation projects manager for The Churches Conservation Trust, said: “We are delighted that so many volunteers got involved and that the dig generated so much interest locally.

“I am also very excited about the progress made in making St Peter’s a more welcoming and sustainable venue.”

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