A 2009 archaeological dig uncovered the walls of the demolished mortuary chapel and suggests a fascinating way for the cemetery to develop in the future.
Evidence shows that burials have taken place in the Mill Road Cemetery site since Anglo-Saxon times. In 2009, the foundations of the demolished chapel were investigated with a view to displaying the found remains in the future.
When the cemetery land was drained and cleared in 1847, some Anglo-Saxon burial remains were found, including a shield boss and spearhead dating from between 410 to 1065. The inhumation was discovered within the central area of the site, very close to the remains of the demolished mortuary chapel.Unfortunately, the whereabouts of these artefacts is no longer known.
The 2009 dig
In November 2009, an archaeological investigation was carried out into the foundations of George Gilbert Scott’s mortuary chapel, which opened in 1858 and was demolished in 1954. The dig was part of a Your Heritage Lottery Funded project to regenerate and restore the Grade II cemetery and increase understanding of its historic value within Cambridge. Local schools, colleges, the Friends of Mill Road Cemetery and other volunteers and local people were invited to take part in this community and education project.
The outline of the chapel could always be seen in the grass within the central part of the cemetery. Five test pits around the walls were excavated by the Oxford Archaeology East team by hand, using spades, shovels and trowels.
The dig revealed that the foundations were still in very good condition, and that there was a sunken side room on the north of the chapel which had a lower floor and roof than the main building. Its windowsill was still in place and there were remains of a sandstone frame and carved architrave.
Knapped flint, stone roof tiles, red bricks and window glass were recovered during the dig, confirming that the chapel was constructed of similar materials to the lodge, still standing in the south-west corner of the cemetery. The foundations of the chapel walls, internally faced with brick, were uncovered in good condition in all the test pits. This suggests that the complete floorplan of the chapel still survives, and could in future be excavated, restored and displayed. This would make an attractive historic and educational feature and provide visitors with a lasting memorial of the original design concept of Mill Road Cemetery.