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News from the Diocese of Southwark

Cathedral holds funeral for Unknown Parishioner

14 Jun 2012

Diocesan Director of Communications

Tel: 020 7939 9400
Mobile: 07831 694021
Fax: 020 7939 9468

The funeral of an Unknown Parishioner, which took place at Southwark Cathedral on Friday 8 June, was a unique and moving event. This unknown person represented the 330 bodies that were found during excavations by Network Rail near the Cathedral.  

Most of the remains dated from the early 19th century and so the Cathedral, working with Network Rail and F A Albin & Sons, Funeral Directors, made the funeral as authentic as possible for the time. The 1662 version of the Funeral Service was used as it was most likely to have been used when the people were first buried.  

The coffin used for the burial was hand made from a design contemporary to the period by craftsmen at Albins. It was brought to, and departed from, the Cathedral on a gun carriage pulled by four horses.  

John Hughes, Development Manager of the Thameslink Programme read the lesson; the Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, and Canon Bruce Saunders led prayers; and the Dean of Southwark, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn preached.  

During his sermon the Dean said that history had a strange way of repeating itself.He noted that when the first railway viaduct was built beside the Cathedral in 1852 the bodies disturbed by the excavations were the first to be buried in the new Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey. One hundred and sixty years later, the remains from the Thameslink project would be the first buried at the new Kemnal Park Cemetery in Sidcup. He continued by saying that "We're taking this much trouble... because this is a brother of ours who lies before us and our relationship and concern for our brother, whoever he was, whenever he died, did not end with his burial".  

After the service, the funeral procession, led by the coffin on its gun carriage pulled by 4 black horses, passed surprised crowds of tourists and bystanders as it started on its journey to Sidcup. Once there, the body was buried alongside the other bones which had already been laid to rest in what it is hoped will be their final resting place.

At the cemetery, the Dean said the prayers of committal as the coffin was lowered into the tomb, over which an obelisk will be placed to mark the place where all the remains are now safely reburied.

The Very Revd Andrew Nunn, Dean of Southwark, said later "We are very pleased with the way the service went. These people had been laid to rest originally with the blessing of the church and it was a privilege to commend them once more to God and return their mortal remains to the ground from which they were taken"  

Barry Albin Dyer, Chairman of F A Albin & Sons said "Both the service held at Southwark Cathedral and ceremony at Kemnal Park Cemetery were conducted in a respectful and dignified manner. The whole experience proved to be a truly fitting tribute to the 330 individuals who have now been laid to rest. The cooperation between Southwark Cathedral, Network Rail and Albins has been exemplary during all stages of the project."

The Dean's sermon can be found on the Diocesan website at:
Photos can be found on the Diocesan Flickr site at:

During excavations by Network Rail for the Thameslink Programme of rail improvements around London Bridge, the remains of 330 bodies were removed from the site of the former St Saviour's Almshouse Burial-Ground close to Southwark Cathedral and Borough Market. These bones, 20 cubic metres - weighing 6 tons, were sent for archaeological investigations before being reburied in a special plot in the new Kemnal Park Cemetery in Sidcup.