Remains of at least three people dug up at Glasgow church before latest discovery

The remains of “at least three” people had already been dug up on land next to a Calton church in Glasgow before construction workers found bones, a skull and wooden coffins this week.

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The discovery on Tuesday was made at an Orr Street building site beside former burial grounds, which haven’t been deconsecrated, near St Mary’s Church.

Site investigation reports, submitted with the developer’s planning application, reveal human remains were found near the church while tests were being carried out in 2019. Suspected remains were also uncovered in 2008.

Despite the findings, planning permission was granted in October last year for homes on Orr Street and the neighbouring burial grounds were leased to the developer, AS Homes, by the council in September.

Construction workers have found more bones.Construction workers have found more bones.
Construction workers have found more bones.

That deal was agreed for 125 years at £1 per year, with an initial fee of £103,000. The grounds have previously been used as a red blaes football pitch, now overgrown, and will be turned into a play park, with a memorial to the dead, alongside the new flats.

Annette McGarill, a keen family historian, believes the bodies have been “treated with complete and shameful disdain”. She discovered a list of lair owners after council officials said no records of the dead existed.

The council said no buildings are being erected on the former graveyard and AS Homes said remains had “been found beyond the original burial ground.”

Ms McGarill, whose family lived in the parish, said the council had “clearly been aware” that no deconsecration had taken place and “that bodies had already been disturbed during initial excavation.”

Before the lease was agreed, a report to councillors stated the church had “no records of the individuals buried on the site, therefore families and relatives cannot be notified.”

However, Ms McGarill pointed out there are records of lair holders, from the 1870s, in the Glasgow Archives at the Mitchell Library.

These show over 500 names and addresses for lair holders at St Mary’s Catholic burying ground, which she said could be used to trace relatives.

Ms McGarill, who lives in the West End, added: “I discovered that the ground had been given over from the Archdiocese to the council in 1916. Since then, it has clearly been allowed to fall into a disgraceful state of neglect.

“Gravestones have been removed over the years, with apparently no attempt to record the inscriptions on them. This had led to the council saying that, as they do not know who is buried there, they cannot contact families.

“This is no excuse, as lair records do exist which might have allowed families to be traced.”

AS Homes has plans for 80 properties next to the burial grounds. Site investigations by Mason Evans, geo–environmental consultants, conducted in June 2019, discovered human remains in two of eight trial pits.

GUARD Archaeology was onsite during the works and “determined the bones encountered were of the same age as the former burial ground.”

The report, which was submitted with the now-approved housing plans, added the test pit monitoring “uncovered the remains of at least three individuals, as well as the remains of coffin handles”.

“Where human remains were revealed by the excavation, the pit was terminated at that depth.”

A ground investigation report from 2008, when Johnson Poole & Bloomer Ltd were commissioned by Logan Construction Management, stated “materials encountered on site included those strongly suspected to be human remains.”

The application added one of the main issues raised at a consultation meeting with council staff in November 2018 was the ground “has not been deconsecrated” and the onus was on the developer to “prove lairs will not be disturbed by construction.”

Ms McGarill said: “I have a particular interest in this development, as several generations of my family were born, lived and died in the parish.

“Ironically, a monument has recently been installed in front of the church to commemorate the thousands who fled the Irish Famine in the 19th century and settled in St Mary’s Parish.

“It is distressing to think that, a few months following the unveiling of this installation, bodies of such people, probably buried there, are being treated with complete and shameful disdain. This is corporate vandalism at its worst.”

A spokeswoman for AS Homes said the graveyard had closed around 1870 and, when working near burial grounds, remains “may be found beyond the boundary of the actual burial ground”.

She said: “We followed the standard protocol, as advised by Glasgow City Council, which was to apply for a warrant which agrees the process in the event of any remains being found.

“We have done this and will be following the agreed process to ensure any remains are treated appropriately. We can confirm some remains have been found beyond the original burial ground at Orr Street.

“We have stopped work in the area where these remains have been found and this is now fenced off. The remains will be carefully excavated and moved with dignity and respect.”

A council spokesman said: “The council has not contacted the relatives and do not believe the developer has done so. The developer has been in a dialogue with the Archdiocese.

“The area of the burial ground is not being ‘developed’ as such and no buildings are being erected on the site — the development of residential blocks is on adjacent sites.

“The subject ground has been used as amenity ground for many years (blaes football park) and had unfortunately become derelict. The proposals agreed with GCC do no permit development — only the continuing use of the land for amenity and landscaping.

“There are legal procedures in place for the disturbance of any remains on site, and responsibility for compliance sits with the developer. The council has been advised that the works involve only a surface scrape of the land to avoid any disturbance of remains.

“In the event remains are disturbed, the developer must follow the legal procedures to have them re-interred. The developer has advised the Archdiocese of the proposals who confirmed their support.”