Court order sought to dig up 200 graves in Leith for Edinburgh Tram extension work

COUNCIL bosses will seek court permission next month to exhume up to 200 bodies from medieval graves in Leith as part of the controversial tram extension project.

Human remains dating from medieval times were unearthed by archaeologists near South Leith Parish Church in 2009.
Human remains dating from medieval times were unearthed by archaeologists near South Leith Parish Church in 2009.

They say the A-listed wall of South Leith Parish Church graveyard on Constitution Street, built in 1790, needs to be dismantled because its foundations are not strong enough to withstand the tram construction works on that part of the route.

“Part of this work will include the archaeological exhumation of the remains of approximately 200 grave sites dating from between the 14th and 17th centuries and associated archaeological remains currently buried underneath the wall and Constitution Street,” said the council.

“This work does not require any significant excavations beyond the wall and into the graveyard and is being designed to avoid disturbing known burials within the present graveyard.”

Work is expected to start later this year and it could take three or four months to take the wall down piece by piece, with the stones being retained and then used to reconstruct the wall in the same location once the tram project is complete.

The application for consent to exhume the pre-17th century remains will be made to Edinburgh Sheriff Court on September 9. No objections are expected.

The Rev Ian May, minister of South Leith Parish Church, said he did not think the council’s plan for exhumations would cause any upset.

“We’re talking about burials carried out hundreds of years ago. So long as it is carried out with respect and due care and attention, I don’t think there is a problem.”

In 2009, preparation work for the tram project being carried out at that time uncovered the remains of almost 400 men, women and children around Constitution Street, in an area which had previously been part of the graveyard.


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Transport convenor Lesley Macinnes said: “The bodies would be carefully excavated by the project’s archaeologists and curated by the council along with our established collection of archaeological remains. Leith has a long and colourful history and is recognised as one of the most important urban archaeology sites in Scotland so this archaeological work will give us an even closer insight into the area’s medieval past.”