St Paul’s Square, Liverpool – Report

St Paul’s Church, by John Harwood, 1831

St Paul’s Church, by John Harwood, 1831

Once every three years or so I am brought down from the moors and mountains and I get to dust off my (t)rusty trowel and am let loose to dig things. This watching brief/excavation, one of many undertaken in the transformation of Liverpool in the last ten or so years,  was almost the last time I have done so.

The report for the project can now be found online via the Oxford Archaeology Library.

In 2001 proposals were submitted to construct five large multi-storey buildings on a former municipal carpark at St Paul’s Square, Liverpool. During the most recent three phases of watching brief in September 2006, March-June 2007 and September-October 2009, it was possible to record, and latterly piece together, a range of features relating to St Paul’s Church, which was built 1763-9 and demolished 1931-2. Although often truncated, the majority of the building’s footprint was exposed, and consisted of a main inner square of load-bearing structural sandstone walls, with stepped porticoes/extensions on all sides, and a circle of plinths in the centre that originally would have supported the octagonal dome.

A really bad aerial shot taken in bright sunlight from the adjacent building that shows some of the foundation walls of St Paul's church.

A really bad aerial shot taken in bright sunlight from the adjacent building that shows some of the foundation walls of St Paul’s church.

The central foundation plinths for taking the pillars that originally supported the dome of the church.

The central foundation plinths for taking the pillars that originally supported the dome of the church.

A subterranean crypt was found in the area of the church’s main, south-west, entrance, and comprised a series of at least 23 two-storey red-brick vaulted bays flanking a central corridor. Although these bays had once been sealed by substantial doors, all those investigated had been emptied of their original contents and backfilled with demolition debris and broken gravestones.

Partially excavated brick burial vaults from beneath the front entrance steps to St Paul's church.

Partially excavated brick burial vaults from beneath the front entrance steps to St Paul’s church.

Development groundworks within the graveyard surrounding the church revealed fragmentary evidence for the yard’s sandstone wall at the south-west end, and also on the eastern corner of the development. Thirteen burial features were encountered in the graveyard, amongst which a possible charnel pit and two graves fell within the limit of impact and were investigated to their bases. One truncated grave contained the partial articulated remains of an adult skeleton, but generally, articulated burials were absent, whilst scattered loose bones were not infrequent. This, coupled with the horizontal truncation suggested by the shallow depth at which the bases of investigated graves were encountered, lends credence to the premise that the graveyard was systematically cleared. Removal of the vast majority of the 12,333 burials recorded in the registers of St Paul’s Church is likely to have taken place during 1894, when the graveyard precinct was acquired under the 1887 Open Spaces Act and landscaped by Liverpool Corporation to create St Paul’s Gardens.

One of the many smashed gravestones that were backfilled into the site during demolition of St Paul's church.

One of the many smashed gravestones that were backfilled into the site during demolition of St Paul’s church.

Considering the limited space within the churchyard, almost all of these must represent the practice of making multiple interments within family graves, and many could have been closely packed pauper’s burials. Indeed, evidence of the wide social and professional spectrum of the church congregation, which ranged from merchants and Aldermen to weavers and labourers, is provided by cross-referencing the church burial registers with some of the c 140 recovered gravestone fragments.

Truncating these earlier features were the fragmentary remains of a series of red-brick external and internal wall foundations, encased H-shaped steel stanchions, and areas of flooring. These corresponded with the south-western and north-eastern ends of the rectangular Liverpool Stadium that was constructed in 1932, directly over, and to the same alignment, as the then recently demolished church.

Plan of features exposed at St Paul's Square, Liverpool

Plan of features exposed at St Paul’s Square, Liverpool

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