St Andrews workmen have a bone to pick with mediaeval remains

Some of the first bones to be uncovered.
Some of the first bones to be uncovered.

The remains of a group of Franciscan friars have been discovered in the centre of St Andrews.

A squad of workmen who had been digging up the road in Greyfriars Garden discovered some bones on Tuesday morning and immediately recognised the significance of the find.

The St Andrews Citizen was the first newspaper on the scene and, when archaeologists arrived, they were amazed to discover the remnants of a burial ground from the Greyfriars Friary dating back to the 15th century.

Archaologist Steve Liscoe, speaking exclusively to the Citizen, said: “We knew it was here somewhere,”

“There are historical documents that mention it but there was never any evidence until now.

“This is the first discovery of remains linked to the friary that have come to light. We will investigate this and record what has been found so there is quite a bit of work still to do.

“It is a very exciting discovery. It is unprecedented to find a burial ground right in the middle of town.

“If you start digging around near some of these churches you will find something but this particular discovery is quite unique.”

The Franciscan Friary was established by Bishop Kennedy in 1458 and is believed to have been built at the town’s western limits.

There was a church, a graveyard and a courtyard. The church was built at the western end of Market Street - near Market Street gate - probably on the site now occupied by the Students’ Union building.

The graveyard is thought to have been between the church and the street. The church itself was surrounded by gardens and orchards and was destroyed during the Reformation in 1559.

Fife archeologist Douglas Speirs believes the remains are likely to be those of the friars themselves.

“I got very excited when I heard about this,” he said.

“The general site of the friary has long been known but we have always wanted to pin it down and were hoping for a find like this.

“The graveyard would have been just for the friars, so I wouldn’t expect there to be more than 20, although we haven’t got access to all of it - we have found at least six sets of remains.

“When the road was originally put down there would have been some landscaping work and the ground was reduced - that’s why these remains were so close to the surface.

“They were Franciscan friars who were living and working in St Andrews, serving the spiritual needs of the people in the town.”

The archaeologists were called in when workers began digging up the site.

They had been told to keep an eye out for anything that might be of interest, given what was known about the general area.

William Speed, a general foreman for contractors Breedon Aggregates, was at the site when the discovery was made.

“We had just lifted up part of the road when I noticed a couple of bones, and you could tell straight away what they were,” he said.

“At first I wondered if they were human so we got in touch with the council and let them take over.”

The excavation work is set to continue while work on the rest of the road continues.

The discovery of the burial ground is not expected to cause a major delay to completing the road improvements.