Merton Priory - Station Road, SW19

From Louise McDonagh

The entire N half of the priory church was revealed in 1987, and most of the N transept, Lady Chapel and choir was excavated. Some 160 burials were found within or close to the church.*

It may be worth mentioning that we also found the remains of William Morris's factory which had later been built on the site before it too was demolished. We found 19th century calico trenches with calico pins in them. The stanchion that you can see in one of the photos was from one of these factory buildings. One of the excavators pulled up a bottle with William Morris dye still wet inside. I still have this though, despite best efforts, the dye has dried up - but still present.

Among the significant finds while I was there included a 'chastity belt', found on one of the skeletons in the North Transept excavated by Jonathan Nowell. Also a gall stone on another burial found by another colleague and there was the small amount of gold weave I found on the skeleton that had the chalice and paten.

Note that one of the burials was a hunchback - possibly more common in those days, and another - the woman in the North Transept, whose skeleton was in very good condition, but her right hip was completely out of its socket. I found the kneecap underneath the knee meaning perhaps that the whole leg had been placed in the grave afterwards.

In general, I remember, the average height of the skeletons was around 172 cm - about 5'8'' which, when an inch or so is added for flesh on the heel and head would have made them an average adult height of about 5'9'' or taller. The burials in the North Transept were not coffin burials, but many of those outside the North Transept did still have the coffin lids present. The two childrens cyst burials were just outside the North Transept.

During our excavation, on at least one occasion, the burials were reported to the police as suspicious activity so we had one or two visits from them.

Towards the end of the time I was there, we had to speed up as Bovis accelerated their building activity on the Savacentre. So we had to leave an unknown number of graves unexcavated which will still be there.



Merton Priory 1987 88 site photo

Merton Priory 1987-88 site photo


Merton Priory 1987 88 Jonathan Nowell taking photo of burial

 Merton Priory 1987-88 Jonathan Nowell taking photo of burial


Merton Priory Excavation 1988 Louise McDonagh Press Cutting

Merton Priory Excavation 1988 Louise McDonagh Press Cutting
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* Snippet from the LAARC Excavation Summary Click here to read more

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