13th August 2021:

Two tents, the size of a professional football pitch, which been home to around 80 staff from Oxford Archaeology with Humber Field Archeology in the centre of Hull, are coming down.

A landmark on Castle Street in Hull since they were erected at Trinity Burial Ground last summer, the tents have offered protection to the site of the largest-ever scientific excavation of a post-medieval burial ground in northern England. The excavation has taken place as part of Highways England’s £355m improvements in Hull city centre. We have worked in close partnership with Highways England as well as with Hull City Council, Historic England, Humber Archaeology Partnership and Hull Minster, along with main contractors, Balfour Beatty, to reveal a wealth of information about the city’s past.

Under the protection of the tents, the remains of around 9,500 people have been carefully and respectfully excavated. The burial ground was in use between 1783 and 1861 and belonged to the parish church of Holy Trinity (Hull Minster). Further analysis of the findings is continuing on-site before the funerary remains are reburied within the grounds of the minster. The on-site archaeological work is due to conclude in the autumn.

Our team have uncovered fascinating stories since work began, including discovering the possible remains of a passenger who was killed in one of Hull’s worst dockland disasters. The fatal injuries observed on this individual could have been caused by the explosion on the Union steam packet, which was about to embark for her home port of Gainsborough, on 7th June 1837. In total, there were 23 known fatalities as a result of the vessel explosion, with around a third understood to have been buried in Trinity Burial Ground.


The osteology team who have been working at Trinity Burial Ground in Hull


With the tents coming down, our archaeologists will continue to work over the coming weeks on an 18th-century jail – or gaol as it was previously known – which stood at the north-east corner of the burial ground. The gaol was used at a time of prison reform when the likes of John Howard and Elizabeth Fry promoted the need for better conditions, productive labour and religious instruction.

To date, the footprint of the gaol has been partially revealed, including, intriguingly, part of a basement that seems to have been sub-divided into a series of cells. These may have been the cells for the refractory prisoners (for example, people who refused to behave), but interestingly, a previous 19th-century record of the gaol does not highlight this section. Further excavations may reveal more about this mystery.

It was referred to as the New Gaol and housed men and women awaiting trial, those incarcerated for minor offences, and also debtors, as well as those due to be transported for more serious crimes. It closed in 1829, with the plot later becoming a sawmill in the 19th century and a brass and copper works and lead plant in the early 20th century.

Stephen Rowland, Project Manager for Oxford Archaeology North, said:

"The Trinity Burial Ground project is going to give us an as-yet unparalleled view of the people of Georgian and early Victorian Hull, a view that seems so distant, but is relevant to modern life in so many ways. We have a cross-section of the community, rich and poor, young and old, from native Hullensians to settled incomers and visitors who never made it home. We know that people from every walk of life were buried within the site with their families: labourers, sailors, and seamstresses, businessmen, bakers, and clergymen.

“The comprehensive study will help us to understand at a human level details of their daily lives, their origins and familial relationships, their diets, trials, and tribulations, as well as aspects of their beliefs, identities and aspirations, all within the context of the booming industrial revolution and the commercial expansion of Yorkshire's most significant gateway to the wider world."

Fran Oliver, Project Manager at Highways England added: “Archaeological investigation is an important and sensitive part of the major projects Highways England carries out. Experts are now using the findings from the year-long excavations to develop a more detailed picture of the people who lived in Hull in the 18th and 19th century and how they lived in society. The archive of data will be stored so that the knowledge is preserved for this and future generations.”

We have been sharing regular insights into the archaeological works and wider heritage of Hull, and profiling new finds each week. If you would like to be updated on the latest news and information on the archaeology of the A63, make sure to subscribe to the email list: https://highwaysengland.co.uk/our-work/a63-castle-street-archaeology/