Old cemetery found during park work

PICNICKERS using Ipswich's favourite park could be forgiven for choking on their sandwiches today after it emerged the skeletons of up to 100 people are lying just centimetres below them.

PEOPLE relaxing on the front lawn of Ipswich's Christchurch Park today may be in for a shock - for just 30 centimetres below them lie the remains of up to 100 bodies.

Construction workers have uncovered a previously unknown medieval graveyard while digging a drain in front of Christchurch Mansion.

The discovery has both surprised and excited park staff and the reverend from the adjoining St Margaret's Church because it has unlocked a long-forgotten chapter in the park's history.

Work began on the drain last week and the first skeleton was uncovered almost immediately.

Sam Pollard, Ipswich Borough Council's park manager, said: “We started on the drain run from the Soane Street entrance of the park and we were heading up the footpath toward the mansion. Within seconds the guys had uncovered remains of a human.

“They were only about 30 or 40 centimetres down.

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“We uncovered one, then another, then another. We started off with toes and moved up a leg until we found a skull on four remains.”

In all it was calculated about 30 bodies were lying in the path of the drain so work was halted and each of the discoveries painstakingly recorded before being carefully reburied.

Archaeologists working with the council have estimated that the lawn could be the final resting place of up to 100 people.

It is thought the remains date back to medieval times and the leading theory is that Edmund Withypoll, who built the original Tudor mansion in 1548, could have taken some of the land from the original St Margaret's graveyard to increase the size of the mansion's front garden.

Mr Pollard said: “The church wasn't a high priority at the time and he obviously decided he would have a bit of the churchyard for his front garden.”

Records show that in 1555 the then town council told Edmund Withypoll he had to replace the church boundary wall and it is thought instead of putting the wall where it originally stood, he moved it toward the church where it currently stands.

“The churchyard probably went out from its present wall possibly a further nine metres out into the Christchurch Park lawn,” Mr Pollard said.

“There's potentially a heck of a lot more remains there. If the churchyard spilled out to the extent we think it did then potentially there could be a hundred sets of remains.”

It is also thought Edmund Withypoll removed topsoil from the area, explaining why the remains are now only 30 centimetres below the surface.

Reverend David Cutts from St Margaret's Church said: “It's fascinating. I'd be very interested if at some stage someone could explain how the boundaries have changed over time.”

Have you made an interesting discovery about Ipswich's history? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk.

St Margaret's Church graveyard has been closed to burials for more than a hundred years.

It is not known how many people are buried there as at some stage in the past some of the headstones were removed.

Christchurch Mansion was built on the site of the Augustinian Priory of the Holy Trinity, which was founded in the 12th Century.

In 1536, during Henry VIII's reign, the priory was suppressed, the monks removed and its estates seized by the Crown.

Paul Withypoll, a successful London merchant, bought the site in 1545 and in 1548 his son Edmund began to build a house on the ruins of the priory.

In 1645 the estate passed to Elizabeth, the only daughter and heir of Sir William Withypoll.

In 1735 the house was sold to Claude Fonnereaus, a wealthy London merchant of Huguenot decent.

In 1892 the mansion was bought by Felix Thornley Cobbold, who presented it to the people of Ipswich.

Since the early 1900s the mansion has been a museum housing a fine art and furniture collection and the park remains one of the town's favourite green spaces.

Each year thousands of people flock to the mansion lawns for picnics, to attend concerts and a host of other special events.

Recent improvements to the park have also unearthed a host of historically important items in the silt of the mansion's round pond.

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