Call for Morse: Skeleton found in Oxford college


It is the sort of discovery that would have had Inspector Morse grumpily downing his pint and climbing into the red Jaguar.

An Oxford University college was cordoned off today after builders dug up a human skeleton a day after a bullet casing was also found nearby.

The intact skeleton was found in Wadham College this morning lying in a burial position close to 400-year-old buildings, prompting staff to contact police, who in turn taped off the site of the grisly discovery as a potential crime scene.

Concern that evidence had been found of the sort of dark deeds in picturesque academic settings that provided the Oxford’s most famous television detective with much of his caseload was increased when it was revealed that a modern bullet casing had also been dug up in close vicinity.

But trepidation that genuine foul play had taken place at the famous college, whose current warden is appropriately the former Director of Public Prosecutions, Lord Macdonald, QC, was fading tonight after police said there were no suspicious circumstances. Thames Valley Police said it was believed the remains are at least 100 years old and the bullet casing was unconnected.

Archaeologists were expected to arrive at Wadham on Thursday to examine the remains, which may be linked to a medieval Augustinian priory that occupied part of the site where the college now stands. A college source told The Independent: “The provisional assessment is that the bones are very old. Certainly, they appear to be so – they are very yellowed and crumbly. The contractors found the skeleton lying lengthwise as if it had been placed in a shroud or a coffin.

“A bullet case which appeared fairly modern had also been discovered. But there was nothing to link the two. It is possible that it will turn out to be the remains of an Augustinian monk because of the priory site. It is likely the priory also had a burial ground.

“But we have to wait for confirmation. If the archaeologists find that its 40 years old then clearly the police and their forensic experts will have to investigate.”

The remains were discovered in the back quad of the college, adjacent to buildings designed by Sir Christopher Wren, by contractors who were building a new drain as part of a programme of improvement works.

It is not the first time that skeletal remains have been found in the college, which was founded in 1610 by Dorothy Wadham, the daughter of Henry VIII’s secretary of state. Remains believed to have belonged to a monk have been previously dug up while a skeleton initially thought to belong to a baby were later found to be the remains of a dog.

A spokeswoman for Thames Valley Police said: “We were called by contractors yesterday morning. Officers attended and there were no suspicious circumstances. It is thought it is likely to have been an old burial site.”

Endeavour Morse would doubtless have sighed and returned to his crossword.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
A poster by Durham Constabulary
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Emily McDowell Card that reads:
artCancer survivor Emily McDowell kicks back at the clichés
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvBadalamenti on board for third series
Life and Style
Standing room only: the terraces at Villa Park in 1935
Ben Stokes celebrates with his team mates after bowling Brendon McCullum
sportEngland vs New Zealand report
Amal Clooney has joined the legal team defending 'The Hooden Men'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine