Burials in Mansion House Lane

Mansion House Lane, looking towards the High Street in about 1910. The bones were found in one of the buildings on the right

Central Somerset Gazette 11 August 1939
Last week while the work of reconstructing premises in Clare Street at the back of the offices of the Bridgwater Gas Light Company in High Street was in progress the workmen unearthed a number of human bones about three feet below the surface of the floor. Mr W.H. Smith, of High Street, who formerly lived there, states that the premises were considered to be 500 years old, and about a century ago were a public house, known as the Noah’s Ark, outside of which was a painted sign of animals entering the ark. In an adjoining room to that where the bones were discovered, Mr Smith found a beautiful oak ceiling about 30 years ago, and in the room above was a solid oak floor. The windows were of ‘bullseye’ glass, with lead frames. The property is among the oldest in the town, and it is considered that the bones may be several hundred years old.

The buildings mentioned in the article, highlighted in red.

The Gas Light Company building is now the BOS Cafe, and was for many years a bookshop. To find bones of this sort below such an old building (probably not 500 years exactly, but we can suspect late medieval) would imply they were deposited in the ground long beforehand.

The plots of land in this area were probably laid out in about 1200. Originally a building would have fronted the High Street, with a garden at the back. Over time most of the gardens were built over, especially in this busy area at the heart of town. Either the burials are so old that they pre-date the street plan (pre-1200), or else a garden plot was used as an emergency burial ground during some great mortality crisis, such as the first two waves of Black Death, in 1349 and again in the 1360s.

Tony Woolrich’s study on Public Health and the Water Supply of Bridgwater found from the burial books of St Mary’s Church, an alarming number of mortality events. For example, a plague struck in 1565-1566, resulting in up to 464 deaths. This was far too many bodies to fit in St Mary’s Churchyard in one season, so they must have been buried somewhere else. The Mansion House Lane burials are presumably too early for that epidemic, so there may be several emergency burial grounds below the streets of Bridgwater.

The Lane in September 2019, looking towards Clare Street.
The building on the Corner of the Lane and Clare Street. This is a converted stable

MKP April 2020.