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Durham Cathedral's Civil War skeletons to be reburied

15 January 2016

north news & pictures

Scots: Dr Anwen Caffell, of Durham University, with some of the remains

Scots: Dr Anwen Caffell, of Durham University, with some of the remains

TALKS have begun on deciding the final resting place for the remains of Civil War soldiers unearthed near Durham Cathedral.

The bones of up to 28 men were found in 2013, and, last September, after lengthy analysis by experts from Durham University, they were identified as Scots supporters of King Charles II, captured during the Battle of Dunbar in 1650.

They were among 1700 prisoners force-marched south and held in squalid conditions at the cathedral, which had been suppressed by Oliver Cromwell. Many died from starvation, disease, and cold, and their bodies were placed in mass graves. Survivors were later sold as forced labour in the colonies, including workers for estates in North America, where their descendants still live today.

Their identification attracted interest in Scotland, and 1000 people signed a petition by the Scottish historian George Wilson for their return north of the border. Under the terms of the exhumation licence granted by the Department of Justice, however, their remains should be reburied as close to where they were found as possible.

The archaeologists, aided by Canon Rosalind Brown of Durham Cathedral, held an open meeting in Dunbar last November to explain their findings and to seek opinions on a burial site.

The head of Durham University’s archaeology department, Professor Chris Gerrard, said: "There has been a huge expression of interest in the project. We have been engaging with people and organisations from Scotland, throughout the UK, and globally.

"Given the strong historical links with Dunbar, we thought it fitting to take our event there, to give local people and interest groups a chance to hear from the researchers involved in the project, and to give their opinions on further research, reburial, and commemoration." The senior archaeologist in Archaeological Services, Durham University, Richard Annis, said: "The general conclusion was that they should be buried in Durham; but, if opinions change, we shall have to consult with the authorities to see what can be decided. It is certain that it will be some time yet before they can be reburied, wherever that might be."

Canon Brown said: "The cathedral will work closely with all interested parties to determine the most appropriate course of action for the burial of the soldiers, in a manner appropriate to their Christian tradition.

"We are particularly mindful of descendants of the Scottish soldiers, and hope and pray that this new information can bring solace."

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