Manchester

Unearthing Manchester's hidden crypt and secret cemetery

Black and white image of Cross Street Image copyright Manchester Libraries
Image caption How Cross Street looked with horse-drawn carriages rather than trams

Hidden below the pavement in Manchester city centre lie hundreds of bodies buried in a long-forgotten graveyard.

For years people have been passing over them, never knowing they were there.

Resting less than half a metre below Cross Street, about 120 bodies have remained undisturbed for centuries.

But now many of them are being excavated by archaeologists who will analyse the remains before moving them to a lasting home at Southern Cemetery.

Metrolink engineers made the unexpected discovery last year while working on the new £165m Second City Crossing tram line.

They also uncovered the vaulted crypt of St Peter's Church, which dates back to 1788, under St Peter's Square.

Image copyright Transport for Greater Manchester
Image caption The new Second City Crossing tram tracks will run above the graves at St Peter's Square
Image copyright Manchester Libraries
Image caption St Peter's Church was built in 1788 to serve what was at the time the relatively small Georgian town of Manchester
Image copyright Manchester Libraries
Image caption St Peter's Church was demolished in 1907

The new tram tracks will be supported to run over the crypt without disturbing it, according to Transport for Greater Manchester, which is carrying out the work.

The former graveyard belonged to nearby Cross Street Chapel and dates back to the late 18th Century.

The chapel opened in 1694 and was originally known as the Dissenter's Meeting House. It provided a meeting place for clergymen and worshippers who would not conform to new rules relating to the Church of England.

These 'non-conformists' refused to abide by the Act of Uniformity 1662, which required adherence to the Book of Common Prayer.

Since this time, it has been the meeting place of Unitarians in central Manchester.

Acclaimed local novelist Elizabeth Gaskell attended services at the chapel and her husband William was minister there for 56 years between 1828 and 1884.

Image copyright Google
Image caption Cross Street now houses the modern Unitarian Chapel, built in 1997
Image copyright Cross Street Chapel
Image caption The roof was completely blown off Cross Street Chapel when it was bombed in 1940

The city slowly grew around the chapel and the graves were built upon.

During World War Two the chapel was destroyed by bombing and the congregation had to worship in a makeshift building within the ruins until a new building was erected in the late 1950s.

Dr Andrew Myers, from the Greater Manchester Archaeological Advisory Service (GMAAS) at the University of Salford, said the find provides a rare opportunity to explore Mancunian history.

"The whole purpose is to ensure that Manchester's rich heritage of when it was growing to be the industrial capital of the world is handled carefully, is preserved where it can be, and is excavated and recorded where it needs to be."

A new home

A former trustee of the chapel, Mary Hilton, was the first person to be reburied in the vast and leafy Southern Cemetery.

She died in 1831 aged 71 years, and her remains will be joined by those of her husband, Thomas Hilton.

Relatives will be reburied together in family plots in the old section of the cemetery alongside a number of great Mancunians, including artist LS Lowry, philanthropist John Rylands and former Manchester United manager Sir Matt Busby.

Image caption All of the remains will be moved to the old section of Manchester's Southern Cemetery

Nigel Mayer has traced his ancestors to plot 41 at the Cross Street Chapel graveyard. He found that his great-great-grandfather Andrew Amalric had lived in Hulme and was buried in the family plot in 1835.

Born in Switzerland, Andrew moved to Manchester in 1791 and appears in that year's Manchester Trade Directory as a book-keeper.

His grave is located below Chapel Walks and will not be disturbed by the tram works but Mr Mayer said he looks forward to finding out more about the history of the site.

"I was excited to discover that there was tangible evidence of my ancestors living, working, and eventually being buried in Manchester.

Image copyright National Archives
Image caption Burial records show Andrew Amalric was interred in Cross Street Chapel's former graveyard in 1835

"I'm glad that archaeologists and researchers are able to work in co-ordination with the builders of the tram extension and I hope some more light can be thrown on the lives of those who trod those pavements in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries."

There are plans to rebuild the former St Peter's Cross Monument on an island between the tracks above the former crypt space, as a memorial to the former St Peter's Church.

A report of the project's findings will be placed on record at Manchester Central Library.

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