Work involving the Diocese of St Albans and Archaeologists has now reached a crucial stage and the inside of the tombs is now being examined.
?Carina Summerfield-Hill, Archaeologist, said: ?In the car park close to St Mary?s church we discovered three burial vaults . We have been able to open the first and found a grave stone. We think this was originally a chest tomb and the vaulted structure was built over it at a later date to protect it.
??The grave slab is really well preserved and you can quite clearly read the inscription on it. There are two burials in this first tomb: Mr James Bryan who died in 1834 and his wife Ann Bryan who died 1841. A chest tomb like this to mark their grave suggests that these people had some wealth.
??Nearby a further two vaulted features have been unearthed. We haven?t found any coffins in here as the vaulted brickwork has been backfilled at some earlier time. We won?t be digging down any further than the current redevelopment work needs – we try to leave remains undisturbed as much as possible. This means that at this time we won?t be able to identify who is buried in these other two vaults.
??We have also found a retaining wall which we think is part of the original churchyard. We believe that these graves were part of the original churchyard. The brick work on the protective vaults suggests it was constructed in the 19th century, which was when the market area was originally developed in the Old Town as part of an earlier improvement scheme. It is likely that the graves were protected and built over at this time.?
?Leader of Dacorum Borough Council, Cllr Andrew Williams, said: ?When we started this work to improve the High Street and make the most of its rich heritage no one expected that we would find yet more history in the form of these rediscovered tombs. Although it is unlikely that there is another English King there, we have had to deal appropriately with the remains that we have found. Where burials are involved it?s a bit like going through a planning application, there are processes that must be followed, and these take time. Everyone involved – the contractors, the Borough and County Council teams and the Diocese of St Albans – have worked together as quickly as possible and I am grateful to them all. ?
?”We are doing our utmost to complete the works as soon as we can. I would like to thank the residents and businesses of the Old Town for continuing to bear with us throughout the improvement works ? even when the road is closed to traffic the area’s wonderful array of shops, cafes, bars and restaurants are most definitely still open for business. ?
?Revd Jenny Hill, Team Vicar at St Mary?s Hemel Hempstead, said: ?I am so pleased for all concerned, especially the local businesses, that things are moving ahead swiftly and that we know what we are dealing with. Burials always need to be dealt with sensitively and respectfully and that has been very evident here.?