Asbestos find in Doncaster town centre scuppers WW1 archaelogical dig

St Peter in Chains Church on Chequer Road.

St Peter in Chains Church on Chequer Road.

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An archaeological dig to discover Doncaster’s World War One past has had to be shelved after asbestos was found at the town centre exploration site.

The excavation was due to get underway on a site behind St Peter-in-Chains Church on Chequer Road earlier this week but had to be scrapped after small particles of the dangerous mineral were found in soil samples.

Work to make the site safe has now taken place and trenches which had been dug in the hope of discovering more about barracks built on the site in 1914 have now been filled in.

Nick Stopforth, Head of Libraries and Culture said: “We are bitterly disappointed that we have had to postpone the dig.

“We have been overwhelmed by local support for the project, and so we are working with the archaeology team to identify alternative sites to uncover the borough’s First World War heritage, and provide new opportunities for those volunteers who signed up to take part in the dig.”

While the risks to the public were low, organisers decided to cancel the project following the discovery on the site which has been home to a number of buildings over the years.

Local surveys and maps show that the St Peter-in-Chains site has had many uses including an ice rink, training ground, and military barracks. It was the latter the dig, part of the Doncaster 1914-18 Project, was hoping to discover to unearth evidence of the town’s wartime past.

In the past, asbestos was used as a popular construction material, but buried beneath the soil, it is impossible to trace until excavation trenches reveal the deeper layers of our modern history.

The archaeologists at ArcHeritage stopped the dig as soon as they suspected there may be debris present underground.

Although the amounts of asbestos discovered – and therefore the risks to health - were very low, the dig was closed immediately to protect public safety.

When breathed in, the asbestos particles can cause asbestosis, a lung disease which can prove fatal.

Now, other locations are being investigated for a future archaeology project, while remedial safety work has already taken place on the site to ensure there is no further risk.

Jude Holland, Doncaster 1914-18 project manager said: “We would like to thank the volunteers and St Peter-in-Chains Church for their enthusiasm in the project, and also their cooperation.

“Archaeology is such an important way of discovering more about the working lives of people in the past. As the First World War passes out of our ‘living history’ we are at risk of losing our connection to those people who made such an important contribution, so we are determined to continue to build a picture of life in the area between 1914 and 1918 over the next three years.”

Meanwhile, archaeologists have planned a special free family-friendly ‘Dig on Tour’ activity at Doncaster Museum tomorrow between 10am – 4pm, with hands-on activities and a chance to find out more about the Doncaster 1914-18 project. The Great War on Tour, the project’s interactive roadshow, is also at various locations in the borough this summer.

Full listings can be found at www.doncaster1914-18.org.uk, the project website.