FIVE dead bodies have been found in a churchyard.

This is hardly news – but it is interesting.

The churchyard in question is that of St Peter’s Church at Croft-on-Tees, to the south of Darlington, where work has begun on the creation of a £160,000 heritage centre that will celebrate the village’s connections to Lewis Carroll.

A small kitchen and toilet is being built on the north side of the 12th Century church which is where the five medieval skeletons have been discovered.

Archaeologist John Buglass said they could come from any time in the first 400 years of the church’s existence, and made an educated guess at the 14th Century.

A rule of thumb is that in a churchyard that has been in use for about 1,000 years, you can expect to find between two and four burials per square metre.

They appeared to be juveniles, and their location gives a clue to their lives.

“Traditionally, the most favoured spot for burial was inside the church and as close to the altar as possible, which was where vicars and lords of the manor were buried,” said John. “After that it was in the nave and then it was outside at the east end of the church which was again the closest to the altar – in this church there are a lot of table tombs at the east end for that reason.” Lewis Carroll’s parents are buried in table tombs surrounded by iron fencing at the north-east end of the church.

“Then it was the sunny south side followed by the west end and finally the north side – not only was it chilly but it was associated with the devil,” continued John.

“The north side is the least used, and the burials are people who haven’t reached any status. They are the very poorest and this was the cheapest place to be buried.”

It appears that they were just buried in shrouds, because the cost of a coffin was probably beyond them.

They remain at rest, only now they will be beneath the floor of the new extension.

The excavations, which include tracing a pipeline across the churchyard but following the path of an existing drain, have turned up odd bones, but the roots of the mature trees seem to be efficiently disposing of most of the bodies.

An 1842 halfpenny and some Victorian grave jars have been discovered, but John said: “It hasn’t turned up any surprises, but it confirms what we know – that there are burials in this area – and that will inform the management plans for the future.”

MEMORIES 366 told of the changing face, and road layouts, of Scotch Corner. It caused Tony Marshall, of Darlington, to recall how his father, Bob, had been a police sergeant (collar number 375) in the 1960s with the North Yorkshire Constabulary. He was based at Thirsk, a busy station which looked after a large geographical area, plus four airfields and the A1.

“One particular day, they received a call saying that a smoke was rising from the centre of the new Scotch Corner roundabout,” says Tony. “Fearing that a car had gone had gone up the 6ft high raised sides of the roundabout and dropped into the hollow centre, they attended immediately.

“Sure enough, as they approached, smoke could be seen rising.

“Clambering up the side of the roundabout, expecting to find the worst, imagine their surprise on seeing a small green tent and in front of it a tramp, who was frying his breakfast on a small primus stove.

“Father in no uncertain terms, told him that he couldn’t stay there and he had to move on. He was most upset as he had been calling in there for the last three years on his journey up and down the country and hadn’t had any bother before.”

You don’t get as many gentlemen of the road as you once did.