Cathedrals & Churches

1381 St John's church, Bemerton

Wessex Archaeology has considerable experience in recording cathedrals and churches. With our combination of desk based research, standing building recordingmetric surveys and geophysical surveys as well as our ability to accurately excavate and record below ground archaeology, we can meet all our clients requirements. The work is also supported by the expertise of our in-house osteoarchaeologists
For a selection of case studies choose from the links below or right.
For our full range of services click here

Manchester Cathedral


In April and May a team from the Sheffield Office carried out the excavation of a 7 m by 7 m  trench within the nave of Manchester Cathedral in advance of the construction of a raisable dais. The work was carried out on behalf of Lambert Walker and with help and advice from Norman Redhead (Cathedral Archaeologist) and Dr Peter Arrowsmith. Five lead coffins and 49 inhumations were revealed during the excavation and watching brief. The high status of the burials was notable and contrasted well with the individuals seen during our recent work at Wakefield Cathedral. As well as the lead coffins, items of note included ornate coffin fittings and decorative wooden coffins.


Our osteoarchaeologists analysed the excavated bones on site and our heritage team are currently unearthing information on named individuals – although considering the family’s long association with Manchester, Thomas William De Trafford is proving strangely illusive. 
The identifiable remains comprised broadly equal numbers of male and females but there were only seven young children and adolescents – possibly a reflection of the lower infant mortality amongst the high status of the buried population, or may reflect the small sample excavated. As well as the burials and coffin fittings 44 ledger stones – horizontal grave stones – or fragments were revealed during the watching brief, although very few are complete or well preserved. 
For more information about Manchester Cathedral click here

Wakefield Cathedral

737 Recording a burial

Between April and June 2012 a team from the Sheffield office carried out an excavation within Wakefield Cathedral in advance of the construction of a new floor. The work revealed over 20 inhumations, which are mostly coffin burials associated with the 18th/19th century church.  Many of the graves were previously disturbed, probably during Sir George Gilbert Scott’s restoration work in the mid- to late-19th century, and any remaining bones have largely decayed, leaving only a calcified skeletal outline (see photo left).  Two medieval stone-lined graves/cist burials have also been revealed, which are assumed to lie to the south of the original 12th century church, prior to its expansion in the 15th century. The earliest burial has been radiocarbon dated to between 970 and 1150 AD.  We have also revealed early walls and carried out a watching brief during internal renovation work.  The walls form part of the 15th century north porch and part of an unknown structure to the west of the 12th century church. A watching brief during work in the cathedral is on-going.

1377 Robert Key make a site visit

WA Chairman Robert Key (far left) paid a visit to the project recently as well.  Robert and Chris Moore visited the project and spoke to The Dean about the project and the work that WA was undertaking there. It was a very successful visit and Robert enjoyed meeting the Sheffield Office, the project team and visiting some key contacts in the Northern Region.

Off site we have now completed the post-excavation work. Alistair Barclay’s analysis of the radiocarbon dates from the stone lined cist burials, has placed Wakefield Cathedral’s origins firmly in the late Saxon period – the first firm evidence for the church’s suspected pre-Conquest origins.
740 Stone Coffin
Associated Links

Blog post



Ste Apolline’s Chapel, Guernsey


A strategy to repair and conserve Guernsey’s first designated ancient monument, the 14th century Ste Apolline’s Chapel in St Saviour’s, was written by Wessex Archaeology in 2003.
The plan set out how the chapel, which has an important and beautiful wall painting depicting the Last Supper, can be protected from damp and conserved for the future.
Work on the Conservation and Management Plan for the chapel began with a visit to the site by a group of expert architects and conservators.
The chapel became the island’s first historic monument when the States of Guernsey bought it in 1873 for £120, when it was being used as a cow stable. This marked the beginning of official conservation on the island – the States later created an Ancient Monuments Committee, which is now the Heritage Committee, to care for Ste Apolline’s and other historic sites.
Ste Apolline’s was built by Nicholas Henry in the 1390s, near his manor of La Perelle. It was a chantry chapel, a place where a series of chaplains was appointed to say prayers daily for the souls of Nicholas and his wife Philippa during their lives and after their deaths. The chapel appears in records over the next five hundred years with different owners before being bought by the States.
The chapel was restored in 1972-1978, with a bellcote (a small structure housing a bell) under floor heating, and a new roof and lighting, but is still suffering from damp. Following expressions of concern about the chapel and its wall painting, the Heritage Committee decided to give priority to the site, and organised funding the work required.

2388 Part of the wall painting

Originally the Chapel was painted throughout and substantial areas of painting survive on the south wall. These show the Last Supper with Christ at the centre of the Apostles and next to them a partially preserved scene with four Apostles. In the Last Supper the figures are depicted talking in lively groups, except for Judas, who sits apart and is seen in profile. The choice of subject, the Last Supper, and its location on the wall next to the altar is unusual for the period and seems to be a local fashion. These paintings were made by two artists from the same workshop.
The painting has been degraded by damp but enough of the original paint remains for the disciples to be clearly visible. This wall painting along with a second in the parish Church of the Castel, are the only substantial church wall paintings to survive in Guernsey.
"Ste Apolline’s Chapel is the first ancient historic monument to be designated as such in Guernsey and is very important to the island’s cultural heritage” said Sandy Hamilton, the Heritage Committee’s Historic Sites Manager.
"It is essential that we conserve the chapel, and its historic wall painting, for the future, in a way that is in keeping with the chapel and its history."
"The conservation plan will not only look at immediate repairs, but also at the long-term future for the chapel, so that generations to come can appreciate it for its historical importance and religious significance."
"The work on the chapel, though important, is just part of the Heritage Committee’s task to protect and promote the 80 or so historic monuments on the island.”
The conservation plan set out what work was necessary on the chapel along with a timetable. A team of experts was assembled to write it, including the art historian John Mitchell, a senior lecturer in the School of World Art and Museology at the University of East Anglia.
Mr Mitchell said in his report that the wall painting had an unusual feature in that St Paul is depicted as being at the Last Supper, even though he was not present.
He is depicted as balding and bearded and carries a sword and a large book. He is shown with St Peter and together they represent the two pillars of the church.
St Paul is also depicted in the church of Notre-Dame at Savigny in Normandy and this led Mr Mitchell to believe that the painters of the Guernsey wall painting were from France.
The summary of the Draft Conservation and Management Plan, and the full Draft Conservation Plan are available for download. Read more...
Following on from the Conservation Management Plan Wessex Arcaheology produced the artwork for an onsite display panel and a booklet which is available from the Chapel.

St Brannock’s Church, Braunton

Surveying the timber frameSurveying the timber frameOne of Wessex Archaeology’s most unusual projects was to create a 3D model of the earliest timber-framed church spire in Britain.
Our archaeologists Bob Davis and David Warburton spent seven weeks surveying the Grade 1 Listed spire at St Brannock’s Church in Braunton near Barnstaple in Devon.
St Brannock's ChurchSt Brannock's ChurchParts of the original structure date back to the 13th century, and some of the timber has deteriorated and needs repair. This includes work on the base of the spire, which has become distorted over the centuries.
Wessex Archaeology was commissioned by Braunton Parochial Church Council to survey the octagonal spire and create a computer model which would help decide how to carry out repairs.
Our team used a special Electronic Distance Measurer, which uses infrared beams to measure distances accurately, and our photographer, Elaine Wakefield, took almost a thousand photographs. From the results, our staff at head office created a computer image in three dimensions which architects can use. Work has now started on repairing the spire and should be completed in early 2003.
Our staff also carried out a survey of documents about St Brannock’s church dating from 1554 to 1921, including extensive records of money spent on the spire. Though the present church dates to the 13th century, St Brannock lived around 500AD, so there may have been an earlier building on the site.

St George's, Portland

292 The churchyard of St George's church, Portland

Wessex Archaeology have been commissioned by the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT) to undertake survey work at St George's church, Portland. The church is described by CCT as:
Vast and solitary, St George's is one of  the most magnificent 18th-century churches in Dorset. It rises from the rocky, treeless and dramatic peninsula of Portland and is the masterwork of a local mason named Thomas Gilbert who supplied the Portland stone used to build St Paul’s Cathedral.
Wessex Archaeology will be undertaking a metric survey of the graveyard and supporting the creation of an asset register as part of the broader conservation project being undertaken by the CCT. There will also be a community involvement aspect of the project with Wessex's surveyors providing a training opportunity for local students and archaeology groups.
The work was reported on by the BBC as part of a series on churches and the work of the CCT; you can see the film here.
The image above is part of a panoramic view produced using Photosynth.

Download a high resolution version of this view (© Wessex Archaeology).


Download a high resolution version of this view (© Wessex Archaeology).
Find out more about our geomatics services and projects including a number of interesting case studies at the geomatics homepage.

St. Johns Church, Bemerton

St. Johns Church is a Victorian Grade II* Listed Building in the village of Bemerton just to the west of Salisbury. Many of the original fixtures and fittings are still in place and also worthy of note are the capitals on the columns, each of which is very finely carved to individually unique designs. The church also features a rather lovely lych gate which serves as the village war memorial. The church is currently the focus of a community driven plan to convert it into a community centre whilst retaining space for worship.

323 Interior view of the church, rendered from the point cloud data

324 Section drawing through the church, north-south

Wessex Archaeology were commissioned by Bemerton Community and Paul Stevens Architecture (the project architects) to undertake a metric survey of the church to assist with planning and designing the new community space and also to provide a record of the structure as it stands. We used Terrestrial Laser Scanning (TLS) to record the interior and exterior of the church as well as the interior of the tower and the lych gate.
From this laser scan point cloud, we then created a set of orthographic images, images which look like photographs but are also scaled and contain no perspective distortion, making them suitable for measuring from. A set of traditional internal section drawings were also created through the church, capturing the long and short internal elevations. A number of animations of the data were also prepared for use by the community when talking about the proposals; these were also shown at the Remembrance Day commemorations, the lych gate being the village war memorial.
To learn more about our survey techniques visit our Geomatics pages.
Associated pages:
Geomatics case study
News blog - Ground penetrating radar at St Johns
News blog - Laser scanning at St Johns

The Square Chapel Halifax


In 2013 Wessex Archaeology undertook a programme of archaeological building recording and evaluation work at the Square Chapel, as part of the Cornerstone Project which is adding an extension to the Arts Centre and alterations to Piece Hall. 
The evaluation confirmed the existence of in situ burials on all sides of the chapel and identified a minimum of 41 graves, this includes four brick vaults and eight articulated burials. 19th-century structures associated with an extension to the chapel were also recorded. The name plate of James Thompson provided a burial date of 1831 for a grave on the eastern side of the chapel, extending the known period of burials in this area. 
In 2015 we returned to site to carry out a strip map and record excavation in advance of groundworks for the new extension. The work revealed over 100 skeletons in 65 graves and the footprint of the 19th century Sunday School. This was our first project working with Associate Consultant Angela Boyle. Angela is a specialist on post-medieval cemetery excavation and has worked as a professional archaeologist and osteologist for more than 25 years across the UK. Working with Wessex Archaeology’s Burial and Church Archaeology team, Angela is analysing the skeletons of over 100 Non-Conformists buried at the Square Chapel, Halifax in the 19th century. The western limits of the Square Chapel churchyard were excavated by Wessex Archaeology in the autumn of 2015, in advance of the Cornerstone Project, the refurbishment and extension of the Square Chapel Arts Centre. 
Angela’s analysis is in the early stages but has already revealed interesting information about the health of the people buried in the churchyard. Skeleton 1232 was an adult male aged between 36 and 45 years when he died. He had some evidence of moderate spinal degeneration in his neck and lower back along with clear signs of osteoarthritis in his left hand. This man also had poor dental health. One of his upper premolars has decayed to the extent that only the root of the tooth survived. This would have caused him a lot of discomfort. The small circular perforation visible on the bone is evidence of a dental abscess and there are signs that the bone was infected. Quite a lot of calculus (calcified dental plaque) is present on the molar teeth. This is further evidence of poor dental hygiene. The third molar, or wisdom tooth, also has a large cavity.
A: Osteophytes on right side of fifth lumbar vertebra of skeleton 1232
B: Dentition of skeleton 1232 showing decay, an abscess and calcified dental plaque
Skeleton 1314 was an elderly woman who was at least 60 years of age when she died. There is evidence to suggest that she was suffering from osteoporosis, a condition still common among elderly women nowadays. The condition decreases the density of the bones, making them fragile and much more likely to break. Fractures of the wrist, hip and vertebrae are commonly associated. Unfortunately, this skeleton was poorly preserved and none of those bones survived. However, the bones of the arms and legs exhibit fine hairline fractures which are linked to this condition. 
C: Osteoporotic fractures on left femur of skeleton 1314
D: Copper alloy staining on skull 1134
Many of the skeletons have bones which are stained green in places. This would have been caused by brass coffin fittings which came into contact with the bones as the coffins decayed. In some cases the staining would probably have been caused by shroud pins.
The work was carried out through Kier and Evans Vettori on behalf of the Square Chapel. The skeletal remains will be reinterred on site later this year after full osteological analysis. Angela will provide regular web updates as the work continues.