In March this year, work began on an ambitious project to restore and reunite Brighton’s historic Royal Pavilion Estate buildings and garden, starting with a major refurbishment of the Grade 1 listed Brighton Dome Corn Exchange and Grade 2 listed Studio Theatre. During the course of this work – which will restore long-lost heritage features as well as provide new, state-of-the-art facilities – a Quaker burial ground, predating the Corn Exchange, was unearthed.
A team of five archaeologists from Archaeology South-East excavated the site and a total of 18 skeletons were exhumed from beneath what was formerly the Corn Exchange’s Mini Conference Room. Now that they have been removed from the site, the human remains will undergo osteological analysis to assess their sex and age, as well as calculating stature and diagnosing any evidence of disease that might have affected the population during this period.
‘We believe the skeletons we have found are between 200-300 years old,’ said Garrett Sheehan from Archaeology South-East. ‘The Bishops Map from 1803 showed this area marked as Quakers Croft, and a Quaker burial ground was known to exist here – it was the extent of this that wasn’t clear until now. The construction of the riding school here at Brighton Dome was completed in 1813 so the burials pre-date that. In this area, outside the old riding school, we have 18 burials that remained undisturbed. Interestingly there are also a number of disarticulated skeletons buried here that were presumably moved during the original riding school construction.’
It is hoped that the burial site will offer revealing insights into 18th-century Brighton.
‘The discovery of this burial site has opened up a fascinating new chapter in the history of Brighton,’ said Councillor Alan Robins, Chair of the city’s Tourism, Development and Culture Committee. ‘It will help us understand how people lived more than 200 years ago, and will be added to the story and interpretation of the Royal Pavilion Estate, which is being refurbished and restored for future generations.’
Building work on the site is expected to continue until late 2018. For more information about the project, visit https://brightondome.org/our_future/.
This article will appear in CA 333.