ARCHAEOLOGISTS have discovered almost 2,000 bodies in more than 400 graves on the site of a new road which will finally link up Blackburn's Wainwright Bridge.

The team excavating the St Peter’s Burial Ground also found the remains of 800 children under the age of six, as well as a 'Treasure Trove' of jewellery, a plate, family headstones and a rare time capsule, possibly the earliest found in the UK outside London, containing a full set of 1820 George III coins.

Although the final tally of human remains exceeds Blackburn with Darwen's Council's initial predictions of a few hundred from 200 graves, it is far short of some estimates that the £4million Freckleton Street Link Road would disturb up to 4,000 burials.

Development of the site will give the town's £12million 'Bridge to Nowhere' a destination from February, as the road will finally link up the bridge with the Blackburn orbital route after almost a decade.

Details of the report by Headland Archaeology of Edinburgh have delighted local historians and fascinated borough regeneration boss, Cllr Phil Riley.

He said: "Projects and discoveries like this are rare outside of London so it is an exciting opportunity to look into people’s lives back then with many of the graves dating from the Industrial Revolution which was of great importance to the borough.

"The actual number of human remains was a little surprising in view of the multiple burials often with infants.

"One grave had 13 bodies in it.

"It is a fascinating snapshot of Blackburn as it turned from a small settlement into the Industrial Revolution's 'Capital of Cotton'.

"It shows the poverty and poor health of the people before the introduction of clean water and the terrible level of infant mortality."

Among the finds were the remains of an injured Crimean War veteran, who may have been treated by 'Lady of Lamp' Florence Nightingale and her pioneering team of military nurses.

The site of St Peter's Church itself, built between 1819 and 1821, with the coin collection secreted in a ceremonial corner stone, were excavated along with a third of the burial ground.

The remains will be reinterred elsewhere in the graveyard this summer with a special memorial service led by Bishop of Blackburn Julian Henderson.

It is also hoped some of the discovered artefacts will be exhibited in Blackburn Museum.

Tony Foster, from the Lancashire Family History and Heritage Society, made the initial prediction that up to 4,000 sets of human remains would be discovered on the site.

He said: "Originally in 2008 there were suggestions the whole burial ground would be excavated.

"I am glad the council managed to limit it to a third, reducing the number of graves disturbed.

"The finds are a great addition to our knowledge about the history of Blackburn and the development of the town in the 1800s."

Headland’s work, led by a team of 35 experts, included the recording and removal of visible memorial stones; sensitive exhumation of around 30 per cent of the burial ground; the full excavation of the foundations of St Peter’s Church; post-excavation assessment; specialist DNA analysis, examination of church records and documents building up a history of 19th-century Blackburn, giving a unique cross-section of the local population and where they came from.

Kate Hollern, Blackburn MP said: "The is really interesting information and discoveries.

"I hope the human remains will be treated with dignity and respect shown over which items are exhibited and which are reburied with their owners."

Lead osteologist Dave Henderson, said: “The excavation has provided a very rare and important opportunity to study the life, health and death of the population of a Victorian town.

"We hope that our work will throw light on the lives of ordinary people living outside the London area, where almost all the previous large-scale studies of this era have been carried out."

Julie Franklin, finds manager, said: “The objects that people chose to bury with their loved ones reveal what was important to them, including some incredibly poignant findings of hands still bearing cheap brass wedding rings, or children buried with colourful glass bead jewellery.”

Borough Tory group leader, Cllr Mike Lee said: "The council promised to keep grave disturbances to a minimum and that is what they have done.

"This report and the finds are fascinating material about the growth of our town in the 19th Century."