Paul Dennett, Salford City Mayor said: “We are aware of the footage on social media which has been posted by a well-meaning member of the public but people do not need to be concerned.
“Salford City Council is working with partners to regenerate Greengate, the historical birthplace of the city of Salford. The heritage of the area is being protected, preserved and we’re providing better access to the public.
“Our vision for the site of Christ Church on King Street is to turn what was once a carpark into a public open space. To achieve this our partner Renaker has purchased the site.
“The county archaeologist’s team are carrying out the initial investigation works to catalogue graves and document the footprint of the old church. The site is of huge historical significance, the church was known as the Beefsteak or Cowherd's Chapel and was established by the Rev. William Cowherd, the founder of the vegetarian movement.
“Salford is proud of our distinctive history and the archaeological team are leading the investigation to treat the site with respect and dignity.
“The works are a really positive development for the city and we’d like people to know more about what the team finds. It’s very exciting”
The site of Christ Church on King Street, Salford, has been subject to an archaeological research investigation to establish whether any of the ledger stones known to have been laid across the graveyard in the early 19th century survived below ground, together with the foundations of the Church, and allowed a detailed record to be made of their depth and any inscriptions.
The work was carried out by a specialist team from the University of Salford's archaeology department to inform the final design and interpretation of the site in advance of its transformation from a car park to a public open space that reflects the rich and fascinating heritage of the site.
The work involved the careful mechanical excavation of the modern car park surface, carried out under close and constant archaeological supervision, followed by manual cleaning of the surface of the ledger stones. Once exposed and cleaned, the ledgers were photographed, surveyed and inscriptions transcribed to provide an opportunity for further research to be carried out of the individuals buried on the site.
As a precautionary step, a Ministry of Justice licence for the removal of human remains was obtained prior to the start of the work to ensure that any stray fragments of human bones were dealt with appropriately. None of the graves have been opened, excavated or damaged in any way and, upon completion of the archaeological works, the excavated soil was carefully replaced over the ledger stones for protection. The public realm works that are to be carried out will involve raising the ground level across the site by importing soil to ensure that all the ledger stones are fully protected and left completely undisturbed. There will be no invasive building work on this site in the course of creating the new public realm.
The work did not expose any articulated skeletons and thus screening that would be required in the event of exhuming any remains was not installed so that any passing members of the public could clearly see the nature of the work being carried out. Throughout the course if the investigation, members of the archaeological team have been on hand to explain the work involved and the emerging results to any interested members of the public.
All work carried out by the archaeological team was in strict accordance with professional guidelines and a methodology agreed with Salford City Council.
At no stage did the mechanical excavator traverse the exposed ledger stones, and every precaution was taken to ensure that there was absolutely no damage to any of the ledger stones, including those that had been damaged when an access road and large drainage pipe were installed across the site in the 1860s, after the graveyard had been abandoned. Any allegations of ledger stones being smashed during the current works is completely untrue, and undermines the important heritage benefits that have been obtained from the work. After the graveyard was closed in the 1860s, it was used as a timber yard, then by a scrap metal dealer, followed by a public car park – it is these historical uses that account for damage to a number of the grave stones.
The archaeological and historical research undertaken as part of this evaluation project has revealed the fascinating story of this site. It began as a Swedenborgian Church erected by the Rev. William Cowherd who established the Bible Christian church here in 1809. His congregation was vegetarian and teetotal and he was one of the founders of vegetarianism. He provided schooling and welfare for the poor of the area and his good works were continued by one of Salford’s greatest public figures Joseph Brotherton who became minister in 1816 following Cowherd’s death. The rich heritage of Christ Church and its graveyard will be displayed as part of the new public space which will form part of Greengate’s regeneration.