Human remains ‘should be anticipated’ at former workhouse site

Human remains from an historic burial ground at the former workhouse building in Fitzrovia are very likely to still exist and would have to be removed before any redevelopment of the site says a report from Museum of London Archaeology.

Cover of report.

Museum of London Archaeology report says human remains are likely to remain on Workhouse site.

The report is a desk-based analysis and draws together evidence from historical records and the results of six test pits dug on the site in 2014. It has been produced in advance of a proposed development at the Middlesex Hospital Annex, Cleveland Street.

“In the late 18th century the workhouse for the Parish of St Paul Covent Garden was built on the site, which was also used as an additional parish burial ground between 1780 and 1853,” states the report.

The site was consecrated and during this period the parish burial records suggest that “the total number of interments made at the site might be between 9,000 and 10,000”.

The workhouse was expanded in the 19th century and became known as the Strand Union Workhouse and some burials were excavated.

“Human remains are documented as having been removed from the north-east corner of the site during building work circa 1860, and the burial ground will have been highly fragmented by other subsequent construction, reducing the potential for large numbers of entirely intact burials,” states the report.

However, documentary evidence has not established whether the consecrated burial ground was cleared after closure.

“There is only one known reference to the discovery of burials during later phases of construction, and it seems unlikely that all human remains have been removed from the site. The discovery of bones, albeit disarticulated, within the site during recent investigations means that the presence of human remains should be anticipated, outside the footprint of the original late 18th century workhouse building.”

The report states: “Appropriate excavation would be required for any human remains that would be disturbed by the proposed development.”

There is also the potential to find remains of 18th architecture at the site: “Recent investigations within the site have established the survival of earlier phases of the workhouse in the form of wall footings, lightwells and cellars.”

The report recommends that a more detailed examination is undertaken after any planning consent to redevelop the site is given.

A decision on the future of the site is likely to be made at Camden council’s planning committee meeting on Thursday 6 July 2017.

Document: MHA-Historic Environment Assessment (pdf).

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