The lead coffin recovered during the demolition of the Bretonside bus station last week has been revealed to be Elizabeth, daughter of well-known Plymouth porcelain manufacturer William Cookworthy.
Investigations carried out by South West Archaeology, with support from the Council’s historic environment officer, have found that a name plate on the coffin identifies the remains as those of Elizabeth Cookworthy who died on 9 October 1833.
Elizabeth was the daughter of the well-known Plymouth Quaker, William Cookworthy and his wife Sarah. Elizabeth was one of a set of twins born in March 1743 so would have been 90 at the time of death.
The coffin was located when the thick levels of concrete apron were broken and lifted during the current demolition works at the British Land development site.
An archaeological watching brief conducted by South-West Archaeology was able to plot the position of the coffin. This enabled the location to be identified within the former Quaker burial ground associated with the Treville Street Meeting House.
This entire area had been cleared and levelled in 1956 in advance of the construction of the bus station and all burials had been removed to Efford Cemetery at that time.
However, it now appears that Elizabeth, being the daughter of a well-known Quaker benefactor, was accorded special treatment.
Not only was she provided with a lead coffin when a wooden coffin would have been more usual, but she was clearly buried at a much greater depth than those around her. This accounts for her burial having been missed during the clearance works of the 1950s.
Elizabeth Cookworthy’s coffin has been taken to a secure chapel of rest and measures are being taken to ensure that she is re-interred in Plymouth. Discussions are being held with the city’s Quaker community about arrangements.