Hunt to find skeleton accidentally dug up and then buried again in Staffordshire town

A search is underway to find a skeleton which was accidentally dug up and then buried again in a Staffordshire town.

Two builders – Fred Coates and Alex ingley – found the skeleton when they were digging a trench along the wall of Burton Abbey near the town’s market hall in 1952.

The “blackened” skeleton was exhumed, but at the time, the coroner decided not to hold an inquest as he believed the bones were around 500 years old.

The skeleton was later reburied – but it is not known where.

Now a search is underway for the body after Burton historian David Adkins says he beleives the skeleton may have been that of the town’s patron saint – and could be around 2,000 years old, reports BurtonLive.

St Modwen was an Irish noblewoman who made a pilgrimage to Rome. She visited Burton on her way and stayed for seven years.

During this time, she founded a church dedicated to St Andrew on an island on the River Trent. She named the island Saint Andrew’s Isle, or Andressey.

It is understood that on her return journey she built another church across the river at the foot of Mount Calvus, later known as Scalpcliffe Hill, this time dedicated to St Peter, on the site of the current church in Stapenhill.

When she died, around 900 AD, her remains reputedly eventually ended up at Burton Abbey when it was established in 1002 AD by Wulfric Spot, a Saxon nobleman.

Burton Abbey was later replaced by the current St Modwen’s Church, in the Market Place.

The market hall was built over the abbey’s cloisters.

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And it is now thought St Modwen was reburied in 1952, somewhere in St Modwen’s churchyard.

Mr Adkins has now set up a Facebook group called Project Modwen in a bid to find the body.

He said: “The most significant things were that (the skeleton) was found inside where the original cloisters of the Abbey were – suggesting it was someone very important – and secondly the bones were almost black.

“At the time it was believed to be about 400 to 500 years old (none of the more modern scientific tests were done).

“However, my research led me to the story of a Polish princess who was found also having completely black bones – and being around 2,000 years old.

“The black bones come from (it is believed) the shrouds people of the time were buried in – which contained a bitumen-type substance that over the years turned the bones black – this can also happen through the nature of the soil and there is even a rare disease that turns bones black.

“In the Burton skeleton, the bones could have been turned black through the soil – or, tantalisingly, the chemical composition of a shroud.

“If they dated to the time of St Modwen and were female, we could reconstruct her face and see what our saint actually looked like. Dental isotopes could prove her birth in Ireland.

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“We have the historical texts telling us about the life of St Modwen – and where she was and when.

“My question is would the family of either Alex Ingley or Fred Coates, who accidentally found the skeleton in 1952, know where the powers that be reburied it – or, if they are still alive, can they remember exactly where they found it?

“Maybe their children (if they have any) can remember hearing stories about it.”

Family of Mr Ingley and Mr Coates are asked to get in touch by calling reporter Helen Kreft on 01283 245032 or emailing

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