Dorchester Prison human remains to be exhumed

Dorchester Prison Image copyright Google
Image caption It is believed Martha Brown, the last woman to be publically hanged in Dorset, is buried at the site

Archaeologists plan to exhume human remains at a former prison in Dorset before a redevelopment of the site can go ahead.

Developer City and Country wants to build homes and a museum on the site of HMP Dorchester which closed in 2013.

It is believed Martha Brown, the last woman to be publically hanged in the county, is buried at the site.

Cotswold Archaeology said a study could shed light on the diet, health and lifestyle of those buried.

Archaeologists identified, but did not excavate, burial sites within and outside the prison's consecrated burial ground in 2015.

Image copyright City & Country
Image caption The Victorian cell blocks would be converted into flats with the central atrium used as an entrance hall

The 18th and 19th Century remains are "of some archaeological significance due to scientific benefits of research into human remains, shedding light onto human demography, health, diet and disease in the past," Cotswold Archaeology said.

'Dignity and respect'

It added all human remains would be "fully recorded and removed prior to disturbance, with the intention to rebury the remains following appropriate assessment and analysis".

Richard Winsborough, from City and Country, agreed any remains at risk of being disturbed should be excavated and would "be treated with dignity and respect" in accordance with Church of England and English Heritage guidance.

A number of public executions took place at the site, including that of Martha Brown who was hanged in 1856, watched by author Thomas Hardy, who was 16 at the time - and is said to have inspired his novel Tess of the d'Ubervilles.

The Dorset History Centre said newspapers from the time showed she was buried in the prison graveyard.

Mike Nixon, secretary of Thomas Hardy Society, said: "There is a strong possibility Martha Brown could be buried there and we were anxious for more work to be carried out to see if we can nail it."

West Dorset District Council is currently considering the planning application.

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