Sheffield Supertram: ‘Guys picking up bones and putting them in black bags’

Shocked office workers revealed how they had watched in horror as workmen threw human bones into black plastic bin liners.

By Charles Smith
Monday, 13th June 2022, 2:00 pm

Not the sort of thing you want to see when you gaze out of the office window when there is a lull in your workload.

But that is precisely the view which greeted some clerical staff during one particularly unusual piece of work which needed to be carried out as the city’s Supertram network was being prepared.

It was October 1993 and the ancient graves which lay beneath the cathedral forecourt were being exhumed to make way for the Supertram Cathedral station.

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Supertram work taking place outside Sheffield Cathedral in 1993

The work – which, to the dismay of many, was being carried using a mechanical digger – was screened off. But not well enough.

They’d failed to take into account those working in surrounding offices who were afforded a somewhat unwelcome bird’s eye view of goings-on.

One office worker told The Star: “There are guys picking up bones and putting them in blca plastic bags. Before this they were putting them in coffins. Anyone can see. It’s a bit crude isn’t it?”

Another said: “It is the first time I have seen anyone put anything into a plastic bag. They shouldn’t be digging up the graveyard in the fist place.”

The controversial exhumation of graves outside Sheffield Cathedral in 1993

A Supertram spokesman admitted they ‘hadn’t thought through the sightlines’ and were urgently erecting more screens in a bid to block the view.

The exhumation of the graves – given they were in a prominent position at the cathedral – were believed to have included some of Sheffield’s leading names dating back to the 1700s.

A big orange tent had been erected to keep the sensitive work out of view...but some workmen were not bothering to go into the tent when they discovered human remains.

Supertram spokesman Peter Gross said: “We are very aware of the sensitivity of the matter. It is not always possible to know where the sightlines are.”

Supertram track work nears completion outside Sheffield Cathedral in 1993

The use of plastic bags – and sometimes coffins – for the remains and a mechanical digger were in accordance with Home Office guidelines, he added.

But the work came under fire from Sheffield archaeologist Dr Chris Cumberpatch who branded it a ‘national scandal’.

He said a proper dig would have revealed patterns of mortality, diseases, diet and injuries to bones left by work.

Dr Cumberpatch said: “It is scandalous the way things have been handled. The slightest trace of disease can be destroyed if bones are not handled properly.”

But Mr Gross said if a proper archaeological dig had taken place the work would have lasted until the end of the decade instead of just 13 weeks.

The remains were kept under guard at the site before being reinterred in Abbey Lane cemetery.