8th April 2013:

The excavation underway at Swinton Unitarian Free Church The memorial to Private Blears

A combined team from the OA North and OA South offices recently undertook a programme of excavation, on behalf of Prospect Archaeology, at the site of Swinton Unitarian Free Church in Salford, where the site is being cleared for redevelopment.

The small brick-built non-conformist chapel was constructed in 1858, with the land around the chapel being established as a burial ground in 1863. The first individual was interred in November 1863. The church thrived as a central part of the community until 1984, when it suffered severe storm damage and was demolished. Some 330 burials within the 55 plots spanned a hundred-year period from 1863 to 1963, with the archaeological team only dealing with burials pre-dating 1900.

Working alongside an exhumation company (Burial Ground Services, who worked on behalf of Peter Mitchell Associates), the OA team was tasked with the excavation and identification of 116 individuals from the site, including 17 additional 19th-century burials discovered during the course of the project and not included in the main burial record. A detailed record of the church was made, and the whole team worked together to refit and puzzle over more than 293 fragments of smashed up gravestones in snow-bound conditions.

Amongst the 20th-century remains lifted by Burial Ground Services were those of WW1 veteran, Private Wilbraham Blears. He was identified by the team on behalf of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and removed from site in a casket draped with a Union flag. Blears was reburied with full military honours at nearby Swinton Cemetery.