ARCHAEOLOGISTS have said they believe thousands of human remains may need to be exhumed to make way for a new £4million road.

A study by Oxford Archaeology North has revealed that many more people are buried in the former St Peter’s Church graveyard in Blackburn than previously thought.


The council has said nobody knows for sure how many bodies there are, but it had been working on an estimate of 200 sets of remains since the project began eight years ago.

Remains will be exhumed in the coming weeks to allow for the construction of a new road to link up with the £12million Wainwright Bridge, dubbed the ‘Bridge to Nowhere’.

Archaeologists who carried out a specialist investigation on behalf of the council said they believe remains from ‘several thousand’ bodies are still buried there.

Alan Lupton, operations manager for Oxford Archaeology North, said: “We think there are several thousand bodies in there.

“We did put a few trenches in to see whether the density and space we thought was there was right, and it was.

“But until you get in there you can’t say for certain. Archaeology is not an exact science.

“But the likelihood is there is a considerable number in there.”

Council bosses said they only plan to dig up part of the graveyard and hoped only a couple of hundred bodies would need to be exhumed.

Any extra cost or delay will only be able to be calculated once work to exhume the remains begins.

The council has also applied to the Ministry of Justice for permission to re-inter all the remains on what is left of the graveyard either side of the link road once it is completed.

Blackburn with Darwen Council executive member for regeneration Coun Maureen Bateson said nobody would know for sure what was under the ground until work began.

She said: “There are varying numbers depending on who you speak to.

“I think until we start digging we can’t say for sure.

“There were some estimates that there were thousands but the council does not believe there is that many.

“Our figures are only a guess anyway at the moment.”

The link road will go straight through the middle of the former graveyard, which is a third of an acre in size, as it links the Wainwright Bridge with the junction of King Street and Montague Street.

Work to demolish the final two buildings in St Peter Street, including the former Blackburn Spiritualist Church, will take place next month.

Once that work is complete, council contractors will exhume the bodies from the graveyard before beginning work on the link road.

St Peter’s C of E Church was opened in September 1821, and the first burial took place that year.

Official records show that by the end of 1838 there had been 1,351 bodies buried, and the annual number recorded in the register averaged between 90 and 100.

When Blackburn’s public cemetery, in Whalley Old Road, opened in the 1850s, all church graveyards were closed for new plots, but people who already had a grave, like family vaults, continued to be buried there.

The church, which was damaged by dry rot, was knocked down in 1976.

Local historian Tony Foster has carried out research on the burial ground over the past few years and said the council has hugely under-estimated the amount of remains that will need to be exhumed.

According to Mr Foster’s research, the last burial recorded in St Peter’s was in 1946.

He said: “Throughout the planning process, the council has always been adamant there are only 200 bodies in the whole of the graveyard.

“This is in spite of them being repeatedly made aware that more than 3,000 burials took place there prior to the opening of public cemetery.

“Clearly burials continued after this.

“Why has the council totally under-estimated the number of bodies?

“Clearly the removal of this increased number of bodies will significantly increase the cost of this road.”

The saga of the Freckleton Street link road has been ongoing since the Wainwright Bridge was completed in 2007, with the road intended to connect the bridge with Montague Street and then Barbara Castle Way to form an orbital route around the town centre.

But a long-running feud with conservationists concerned at the required demolition of historic buildings, including the Old Police House, saw the plans delayed, as did the spiritualist church’s refusal to sell its premises in St Peter Street.


The Freckleton Street ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ and link road:

July 2006 - Artist’s impression images of the new Freckleton Street bridge published for the first time. The plans are to connect the bridge to a dual carriageway to complete Blackburn’s orbital route from the A666 to Montague Street

November 2006 - Work starts on the new Freckleton Street bridge, with the first phase of work seeing Freckleton Street blocked off between Weir Street and St Peter Street to create a link along MIll Lane

October 2007 - First announcement that 200 bodies will be dug up to make way for the new £4million Freckleton Street link road

November 2008 - Plans for the link road suspended after English Heritage opposes the demolition of the Old Police House in King Street

January 2009 - Council bosses announce 16-month inquiry into plans for the link road

October 2009 - Planning application for the link road submitted by Blackburn with Darwen Council bosses

September 2012 - Final hurdle overcome as £800,000 deal struck between Blackburn Spiritualist Church and Blackburn with Darwen Council to buy the church building in St Peter Street

October 2013 - Old Police House demolition work commences

October 2014 - Final demolition works of two buildings in St Peter Street, including the former Blackburn Spiritualist Church, set to go ahead

Late 2014 - Blackburn with Darwen Council bosses say remains will be exhumed from the former St Peter’s Church graveyard once all demolition works are completed

Late 2014/Early 2015 - Work on the Freckleton Street link road can finally begin once the bodies have been exhumed. Scheme programmed to take one year.