The exhumation of 120 bodies below Cross Street is due to begin next week in preparation for Transport for Greater Manchester's £165m Second City Crossing.
The former graveyard on the corner of Cross Street and Chapel Street dates back to the founding of the Cross Street Unitarian Chapel in 1694. The original chapel stood on the site until it was bombed during the Second World War, and the graveyard was covered as part of the redevelopment.
Construction of the current building, completed in 1997, led to some bodies being removed in order to install the foundations, however 120 graves remain.
The exhumation will take several months to complete.
Once the bodies are taken from the site, they will be relocated to a memorial grave at Southern Cemetery on Princess Road in Chorlton-cum-Hardy. It is understood that the graves also have large horizontal tablet gravestones, although it is yet to be decided whether these will remain in the Cross Street site.
TfGM said that it had been liaising closely with the Greater Manchester Archaeological Society, Manchester City Council, the church authorities and the Ministry of Justice.
A public notice has been issued, listing names and inviting any potential descendents to come forward but, to date, none have.
Peter Cushing, Metrolink director at TfGM, said: "We fully recognise the duty of care involved – that is why we are following all statutory procedures and are working closely with church and archaeological officials to ensure this work is completed sensitively and respectfully.
"We will, of course, ensure that any work sites involved are secure and enclosed, out of respect for both the nature of the work and any residents or businesses in the immediate vicinity. All appropriate precautions will be followed.
"We are also working very closely with church officials to ensure re-interments are carried out respectfully."
The Second City Crossing will see a new tramline run from the Deansgate-Castlefield stop, through Cross Street and Corporation Street, to Victoria station. Gas and electricity services along Cross Street are currently being relocated ahead of the installation of the tramlines in 2015/16.
A consortium between Laing O'Rourke, Thales and VolkerRail is the appointed contractor for Metrolink. CFA Archaeology advised TfGM on excavation works.
Inset image courtesy of Cross Street Unitarian Chapel