A mass Anglo-Saxon grave has been found by workmen building a toilet next to a medieval church.
Work to build the £160,000 disabled access toilet block at the Holy Trinity Church in Hildersham, Cambs, started in March 2015.
But after a couple of weeks builders discovered more than 40 skeletons, four of which were children, buried just 18 inches into the chalk ground.
The church paid archaeologists £20,000 to examine 19 intact skeletons from the 9th or 10th Century, predating the church by several hundred years, but left 24 graves intact.
Holy Trinity churchwarden and local historian Andrew Westwood-Bate, 60, said: “We expected to discover some bones while digging but this was completely unexpected.
“The Victorians did a lot of work here and there are underground pipes brushing past the graves, but amazingly nothing had disturbed them.”
The church’s committee then decided to relocate the bodies in a new grave overlooking a meadow nearby where the villagers would have lived at that period.
To do this they had to remove all the bones carefully and clean them before they were passed on to the local funeral directors.
The exhumation was carried out with as little public knowledge as possible and is only being revealed now as they prepare to place the headstone on the new grave.
Mr Westwood-Bate said: “The discovery of the children was one of the most moving moments of the excavation.
“The graves were dug into the chalk and bodies laid directly in the cavity.
“When they were removed the bones were all put in bags and placed in a grave together.
“We gave them a proper funeral, again at 8am because we didn’t want to draw any attention to ourselves.
“It was very moving and they have been laid to rest looking over the meadow where they would have lived when they were alive.”
It is thought the graves belong to villagers who lived outside the walls of what was probably an Anglo-Saxon church.
Mr Westwood-Bate believes the skeletons are Anglo-Saxon, although Cambridge University Archaeological Unit experts who examined the site dated the bones to the 11th or 12th century.
After the bones were removed the toilet block was completed just before Christmas last year.
The headstone is due to be put in place before the end of the month and will read “This headstone marks the grave of 32 Anglo-Saxon skeletons excavated by the University of Cambridge Archaeological Unit during the building of the North Porch in 2015.
“The Anglo-Saxon burial ground pre-dates the present church, itself over 900 years old.
“The archaeological team found the remains of bodies shrouded and laid in individual graves cut from the chalk.”