The Rothwell Charnel Chapel Project


The Rothwell Charnel Chapel Project is a multidisciplinary, community-led archaeological investigation of the 13th-century charnel chapel situated beneath Rothwell Parish Church, Northants. The chapel still contains the bones of hundreds of people, who and died between the 13th and 19th centuries.

The project originates with the doctoral research of Dr Jenny Crangle, A Study of Post-Depositional Funerary Practices in Medieval England, conducted in the Department of Archaeology. This study, completed in 2016, can be downloaded from the White Rose EThesis Repository.
The project's research was published in Mortality in May 2019 as part of a collection of papers on the topic of the materiality and spatiality of death.

Staff and students at the University of Sheffield have run several very successful public open days at the church to highlight ongoing archaeological research concerning medieval funerary practices and the human remains have been the subject of several graduate student research projects. The Project has also been supported by the Engaged Curriculum Fund to develop a web-based educational tool from ongoing staff and student research at the Chapel, the Digital Humanities Exploration Fund to created a 3D model of the chapel and the Society for Medieval Archaeology to conduct geophysical work within the church and cemetery.

To find out more about the Rothwell Project, please visit the project website

Background to the Rothwell Charnel Chapel Project

From the early 13th century, crypts were constructed throughout England to house disturbed skeletons. As one of only two in situ charnel chapels surviving in England, and the only one of these to be analysed using modern methods, the Rothwell Chapel presents an ideal archaeological resource for the investigation of topics such as:

1. The interred population (osteological and biomolecular analysis of the skeletal remains, radiocarbon dating)
2. Chapel structure and date (buildings archaeology, spatial analysis, digital recording and enhancement of wall paintings)
3. The environs (fieldwalking, geophysical and landscape survey)
4. Methods for future preservation and maintenance of ossuary material
5. The development of new methods for the analysis of commingled (mixed) and disarticulated bone assemblages
6. Comparative analysis of charnel chapels across England

This project provides the research basis for a large-scale community initiative between the University (staff and students) and local stakeholders involving the production of learning/teaching resources, outreach activities and collaborative research between the University and local people. This collaboration will be strongly research-led and involve written publications in both academic journals and local media, group activities and online engagement via social networking.

Selected publications

Elizabeth Craig-Atkins, Jennifer Crangle, P. S. Barnwell, Dawn M. Hadley, Allan T. Adams, Ian Atkins, Jessica-Rose McGinn & Alice James. 2019. Charnel practices in medieval England: new perspectives. Mortality, 24:2, 145-166, DOI: 10.1080/13576275.2019.1585782

Jennifer Nancy Crangle. 2016. A Study of Post-Depositional Funerary Practices in Medieval England. PhD thesis, University of Sheffield.

Elizabeth Craig-Atkins, Jennifer Crangle and Dawn Hadley. Rothwell Charnel Chapel – The nameless dead. Current Archaeology magazine issue 321, November 2016.

Wuyang Shui, Steve Maddock, Peter Heywood, Elizabeth Craig-Atkins, Jennifer Crangle, Dawn Hadley and Rab Scott. Using semi-automatic 3D scene reconstruction to create a digital medieval charnel chapel. Proc. CGVC2016, 15-16 September, 2016, Bournemouth University, United Kingdom.

Published datasets

The Digital Ossuary: 3D visualisation of a unique and endangered archaeological site.

Faculty of Arts and Humanities Festival June 2016 - Lizzy Craig-Atkins