Sydney Gardens Roman Stone Coffin

Bath and North East Somerset Council successfully secured funding for the Heritage Lottery Fund Parks for People Programme for the Sydney Gardens project. To support the project, we were appointed to cover the majority of the delivery phase, which included groundworks in an area known to have been a Roman cemetery. Although not surprising, it was very exciting to discover two skeletons in a Roman stone coffin. During the archaeological and development works, we were also faced with challenges of ground contamination.

Key details

Project name

Sydney Gardens Roman stone coffin


Bath and North East Somerset Council



Services provided:

  • Production and agreement of an Archaeological Management Plan (AMP) to cover RIBA Stages 4 and 5, and suitable for discharge of conditions related to the main REG03 consented scheme and associated REG13 listed building consent
  • Management of delivery of the AMP, including opportunities for community engagement
  • Ad hoc advice, including works to address contamination at the site

Archaeological management plan

Sydney Gardens is included in the Historic England Register of Parks and Gardens, along with several individually Grade II and II* buildings. Our appointment came in the public procurement process to cover the majority of the delivery phase (RIBA Stages 4-5: Technical Design and Construction). This included the production, agreement and management of an Archaeological Management Plan (AMP), and opportunities for community engagement. We also offered ad hoc advice and included works to address the ground contamination at the site.

The AMP set out a programme of work, designed to feed into the design and construction stages. This included an assessment of archaeological potential and zoned out areas of the park where proposed activity had the potential to affect significant archaeological remains. The main risk to the development was associated with potential for Roman dated burials as the Gardens were historically part of the Roman Bathwick cemetery. The AMP included:

  • Historic building recording of ‘ruinette’ – part of the original gardens’ design (“supper-boxes”)
  • Geophysical survey (GPR)
  • Archaeological trial trench evaluation
  • Archaeological watching brief
  • Archaeological excavation

Archaeological findings

We appointed and managed L-P Archaeology to maintain an archaeological watching brief over the ground-intrusive elements of groundworks as set out in the AMP, which included watching brief over the contamination remediation.

It was in this area that initially a stone wall was observed. The area surrounding the wall was segregated from the main works area whilst the feature was recorded, and whilst the remainder of the remediation works continued. During the recording of the stone wall and surrounding area, a stone coffin was discovered. The next stage of works was undertaken under a licence for exhumation from the coroners’ office at the Ministry of Justice.

The opportunity to excavate a stone coffin burial with modern archaeological techniques and technology is unprecedented in Bath, and every opportunity was explored by L-P Archaeology to allow for the fullest of records to be made, from photography, photogrammetry, 3D scanning and video. The results proved to be even more interesting than originally anticipated.

As well as a votive offering and a cremation burial (both containing human bone), a small amount of human bone was also found in the area immediately adjacent to the stone coffin during ground reduction around the stone coffin to enable its excavation.

Inside the stone coffin were the remains of one female individual laid prone, and the partial remains of a second female individual laid in a heap at its feet. Circa 45 glass beads were also recovered from inside the coffin, with some found outside. Although the re-use of stone coffins is not unique in Roman Britain, it is nevertheless unusual, as is the prone position of the complete individual. The cremation burial is the only one of its kind scientifically verified and recorded at Bathwick Roman cemetery. Further investigation is now ongoing, and much more will be revealed through this process.

Image credit: L-P Archaeology

Sydney Gardens coffin

L-P Archaeology


We undertook intrusive ground investigation works which revealed presence of contamination, including low levels of asbestos. To overcome the problem, we provided a range of assessments that enabled the development to still proceed in a safe and cost-effective way. These included:

  • Intrusive ground investigation and contaminated land appraisals
  • Infiltration testing
  • Remedial methodology
  • Asbestos assessment (As per CARSOIL)
  • Materials management (3D Cut and fill modelling and MMP).
  • Remedial validation and reporting
Sydney gardens historically significant site, Bath


Our Ground Contamination and Heritage teams worked closely with the Landscape Architects to create a strategy which considered the archaeological sensitivity of the site and the need to protect and enhance the landscape of the park.

This allowed all contaminated materials to be retained onsite below a clean cover system, which acted as an appropriate platform for the proposed planting.


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