PCA undertook the excavation of a former Quaker burial ground on Coach Lane, North Shields, Tyne and Wear, used from 1771 until the late 1820s, prior to the construction of houses on the site. This plot of land had been preserved as an open space in the increasingly urbanized surrounding landscape as it was converted into a public park in the early twentieth century. This presented an unusual opportunity to excavate a burial ground in its entirety, coupled with the unique chance to study the burial traditions of a non-conformist population in the region.
One of the risks when excavating inhumations is the possibility of encountering multiple in-situ burials which could potentially cause delays to the programme. To mitigate the risk of delay to this project PCA was able to provide sufficient numbers of professional archaeologists to record and excavate the burials. Our experience of similar projects meant that we were able to quickly and efficiently record and remove the inhumations so that delays were kept to a minimum. Detailed specialist analysis of the 244 skeletons, coffin furniture and coffin timbers was undertaken along with documentary research, the results published in a PCA monograph in 2016.
The skeletal population displayed some evidence of the effects of living in an industrialised environment, and diseases including rickets and tuberculosis were identified. In keeping with Quaker traditions, the coffin furniture was generally plain and austere. Lid hinges, which are rare, were unusually frequent at Coach Lane; these would have allowed the face and upper torso of the deceased to be viewed. There were a few exceptions to the accepted doctrine of simple burial, such as the ornate gold cufflinks one woman was buried with. Wealthy ship-owner John Walker (no longer a member of the Society of Friends at the time of his death) was buried in an elaborate triple-lined grave comprising an inner lead coffin with timber casing interred within a brick walled grave.
The burial register, although not comprehensive, did provide the names of nearly 200 individuals buried at Coach Lane. Detailed documentary research was carried out on four families buried at the site who were influential members of the Society and played pivotal roles in the history of North Shields and the wider region.