16,000 bodies may have to be dug up ahead of road widening

Relatives of thousands of people buried in a Hull cemetery are being urged to come forward ahead of one of the country’s biggest ever mass exhumations.

The Highways Agency said four or five people had already been in touch after an appeal went out yesterday for anyone who thinks they may have an ancestor buried in the Trinity Burial Ground.

Research suggests 16,000 bodies will have to be dug up from a third of the cemetery, just off the Mytongate roundabout, to make way for a long-awaited £129m to £192m road widening scheme. The graveyard served Holy Trinity Church after 1783 when its own cemetery directly outside the church ran out of space and includes mass burials following outbreaks of cholera, typhoid and smallpox.

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It was used until 1861 when it ran out of space.

The Highways Agency said there was no legal obligation to contact relatives of burials that were over 100 years old, but they felt it was “the right thing to do.”

Work will not start in earnest until the Highways Agency gets final approval of its plans.

The remains will be removed some time in 2016/2017, before being reburied in the churchyard, possibly following cremation. Some may be analysed to provide information about life in Hull during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Project manager Jimmy Holmes said they would do everything they could to ensure work was carried out respectfully.

He said they had no idea of how many bodies they would find: “Some of the parish records tell you where graves are but if you have more than one on top of each other it gets a bit cloudy and you are looking at potentially mass burials from epidemics over the course of 150 years.

“English Heritage has asked that some of the remains be taken away for analysis because they are Victorian, relatively recent and they have living descendants which helps give us a good picture of how people lived in Hull at that period of time.

“Because of the potential of the remains being fairly well preserved, it allows them to do quite a lot of analysis on the diseases they may have suffered and their diet.”

Work in the burial ground following several mass exhumations in London, including one in Southwark in 2008 where around 15,000 bodies were moved in five months.

The Venerable Andy Broom, Archdeacon of the East Riding, said: “The church will be working with the Highways Agency to make sure that all human remains from the affected area of the site are treated with honour, and reburied in the unaffected area of the burial ground with an appropriate service.

“Once the works are complete, Hull should have beautifully renewed burial ground which will be a focus for commemoration, a place to discover something of the city’s rich history, and an important city-centre refuge for wildlife.”

The Castle Street scheme aims to improve access to the port by widening sections of the road, upgrading the Mytongate junction and building new pedestrian crossings.

A landmark bridge aims to heal the breach between the city centre and the Marina, where some of the main events for City of Culture will be held. The agency hopes to have all three crossings across Castle Street completed in time for 2017.