Workmen uncover human remains 'from 1600s' in old sewer pipes

The remains were found by South West Water workers replacing pipes Credit: Graham Hobbs

Human remains which could date back as far as the 1600s have been discovered in a blocked sewer in Devon.

South West Water was working to repair pipes in Church Walk, in Bideford, when workmen made the discovery.

The firm then contacted Bryn Morris from Southwest Archaeology, who went to investigate the site on January 28.

He said the workmen had dug down to replace an old Victorian pipe when they cut into a grave associated with the church.

He said the churchyard is likely to have expanded into the surrounding fields before the present parish church of St Mary’s was consecrated in 1865.

The work has now been completed Credit: Graham Hobbs

The site was known to be home to the original Saxon church in 1232, and later, another church atop that was dedicated in 1259.

“Chances are, the churchyard used to be a lot bigger,” Mr Morris said.

“Over the centuries, it has been nibbled away."

He said while people were "surprised" to find the grave it is not "unexpected", adding: "Church Walk has probably been cut out of the graveyard during its historical use.

When Mr Morris arrived, they dug out the rest of the loose soil and placed any human remains to one side before he got into the trench to take photographs and make a recording of his findings.

“At the end of the process, any parts of the skeleton that lay in the trench were lifted and put with the other bits,” he said.

“That little portion of bone will be reburied at some point once we have spoken to the vicar and he’s worked out where they put them.”

He said the initial discovery was a bit of arm.

“That bit of human bone was taken to the police station,” he said.

While he pointed out he was not an osteologist, he believes the remains were from a “fairly short person” but not a child due to the teeth.

He added: “We believe they were buried with their hands over their pelvis. This is because, as I was clearing the bones around the edge of the trench, I got a couple of finger bones by the pelvis."