Sion Chapel Development Proceeds as Tombs Unearthed

Tombs of the Bridgwater dead unearthed in Friarn street
Tombs of the Bridgwater dead unearthed in Friarn street

Despite attempts by Westover ward councillors to prevent the development on an ancient graveyard in Friarn street the Ministry of Justice has now granted the licences and the tombs of long dead Bridgwater people are being unearthed and the remains disinterred for removal while plans for a housing project is now back on track.

Councillor Brian Smedley visited the site today after concerns from residents that screens were being put up and no-one could see what was happening. One said “We don’t know what’s going on there , we don’t know if they’ve got the permission or what they’re hiding from us and we don’t know what they plan to do the people buried there or the ornate stone tombs they’re interred in.”

Tombs visible

The Sion Chapel photographed in 1937
The Sion Chapel photographed in 1937

Cllr Smedley , who attempted to scale the fence to see what was going on and confirmed that tombs were visible, then contacted the Sedgemoor planning department at once to find out and was told “We are as surprised as you that this is going ahead as they didn’t tell us. However, we are aware that they have received the appropriate licence from the Ministry of Justice and they have discharged all the conditions imposed upon them including the archaeological survey. There is no requirement for them to inform us and they have a 3 year period in which to carry out whatever works have been agreed.”

The Sion Chapel burial ground contains the remains of some 265 Bridgwater people. A list of their names can be found here. Cllr Smedley said “The chapel was actually demolished in 1971 but the graves date from the middle of the 19th century. The licence says they will be re-interred at another Bridgwater cemetery. After this, which we are told will be done with consideration and by experts, they will start to build a 45 unit care home on the site which we have objected to as we believe it’s too big, causes overshadowing and seems like more backland development as well as encroaching yet again onto more of our heritage. However, yet again it’s a case of being kept in the dark. People should know what’s happening in their town and certainly Sedgemoor planning officers should be kept in the picture”.

Residents anger

kath pearce at sion
Cllr Kathy Pearce , outside the Sion Chapel site on Friarn st before the fencing was put up and the disinterring commenced

One Friarn street resident said “Do these people actually live in the area who approved this plan ? Yes the area needs to used , but theres no mention by either side what going to happen to the graves on the site or are they just an after thought, I bet they wouldn`t like if their relatives were bulldozed up for some short sighted project . As a resident of Frian Street for the last 15 years , I have seen things change along it , premises knocked down , for new housing with barely enough spaces for the the occupiers . Do these planners take the written word of the architect as gospel such like a family is 2.5 in size they drive only one Renault Clio. Or is it the site can generate a rateable income.”

Cllr Kathy Pearce said “Some communication from the developers before proceeding with the exhumation would have been very helpful, to reassure residents that everything was being done with the utmost respect. This is already a controversial development as far as we’re concerned and this does not inspire confidence that the developers will be good neighbours.”