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Palaces & Buildings

Westminster Abbey building work unearths Medieval burial site

Westminster Abbey has been the site of many weddings, coronations and of course funerals. Over 3,300 people are buried in Westminster from royalty to nobility to scientists, and now we can add to that number. Westminster Abbey has been demolishing a 1950s lavatory block to make room for a new tower, which will be used to bring visitors to the attics of the building.

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

Underneath Victorian drainage pipes just outside the wall of Poet’s Corner the remains of at least 50 people were found, probably from the 11th or early 12th century. It includes a man who was buried in a grand coffin made of Barnack stone, whose skulls was stolen by Victorian workmen and a three-year-old child, whose sex cannot even be identified from the skeleton alone.

The remains were placed there during the building of the Abbey that we know today. Some of the remains even have holes in their skulls from the pickaxes of Henry III’s workmen. The remains would’ve originally been buried outside of St. Peter’s Abbey, which stood on the site. St. Peter’s Abbey was consecrated on 28 December 1065, a week before Edward the Confessor’s death but was not completed until 1090.

The only extant image of St. Peter’s Abbey is the Bayeux Tapestry. Edward the Confessor was buried in the Abbey and his wife Edith of Wessex was buried next to him nine years later. The first documented coronation in the abbey is that of William the Conqueror in the same year of Edward the Confessor’s death.

Bayeux Tapestry

Bayeux Tapestry

The excavation was supervised by Paw Jorgensen, who believe that the place of the burial suggests that the remains belong to the senior clergy. Some skeletons were found still in their graves, which were lined with chalk blocks, known from Anglo-Saxon burials. The water leaking from the Victorian pipes caused significant damage. Those removed by Henry III’s workmen were not damaged by the water and were in good condition. Further scientific tests could reveal more about the remains, as their age and health and origin.

The child’s remains will probably remain a mystery, as he or she does not appear to belong to the rest of the remains.

Photo Credits: Westminster Abbey Daniel Gillaspia via and Bayeux Tapestry Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.