Latest of the latest archaeological Finds from site of Hyde Abbey, Winchester

datePosted on 17:53, October 22nd, 2017

FINAL BURIAL PLACE OF ALFRED THE GREAT

The spectacular finds from the 2017 Hyde900 Community dig were unveiled at St. Bartholomew’s Church, Hyde, at the start of the 2017 King Alfred weekend.

Reconstruction of the cloister arcade of Hyde Abbey (Photo Mike Caldwell)

Reconstruction of the cloister arcade of Hyde Abbey (Photo Mike Caldwell)

The stonework discovered during the dig was found to comprise many pieces of what proved to be part of the cloister arcade of the abbey as it was built in the first part of the 12th century. The stones had been reused in a mediaeval wall which was found during the dig. Whilst adding to our understanding of some of the constructional details of the cloister, it is still very unclear as to the layout of the abbey. Hyde900 has been invited back for a second year of digging in these gardens.

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The neighbouring church of St Bartholomew’s, Hyde, was built at the time of the abbey, but escaped destruction at the Dissolution by virtue of it acting as a Parish church. In it are displayed capitals and a “springer stone” (a stone at the start of an arch) from the Hyde Abbey cloister. These are considered to be some of the finest examples of Romanesque sculpture in the country. In a dramatic aftermath of the dig, it was found that the stonework matched in all respects the capitals and the springer stone displayed in the church.

Capital and “springer“ stone from Hyde Abbey cloisters(Photo Rose Burns

Capital and “springer” stone from Hyde Abbey cloisters (Photo Rose Burns)

Artist’s impression by Ross Lovett of Hyde Abbey cloisters

Artist’s impression by Ross Lovett of Hyde Abbey cloisters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Norman cloister arch was reconstructed in a display which showed the finds in conjunction with the existing stonework at the church. The resulting arch of the cloister was unveiled by Professor Simon Keynes of Cambridge University, one of the world’s leading experts on Alfred the Great, to gasps from the invited audience. This included Professor Martin Biddle, Professor of Archaeology at the University of Oxford, who is regarded as the doyen of Winchester excavations. Professor Biddle commented, “The display demonstrates the outstanding nature of the architecture of this hugely important Abbey, the final resting place of Alfred the Great. In my opinion, the craftsmanship employed is the finest example of the mason’s art for this period within the UK”.

Hyde900 trustee Rose Burns discusses the display with Ross Lovett until recently head mason at Winchester Cathedral

Hyde900 trustee Rose Burns discusses the display with Ross Lovett, until recently Head Mason at Winchester Cathedral

A close up of the intricate carving of the inner face of the arch  (Photo Mike Caldwell)

A close up of the intricate carving of the inner face of the arch (Photo Mike Caldwell)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The extraordinary story of how stones of great beauty and historical interest have laid concealed for hundreds of years under what is now a suburban garden, and how they were discovered, was described by David Spurling, the Hyde900 trustee leading the project. The community excavation was organised by Hyde900 in conjunction with WARG (Winchester Archaeology and Local History Group). The team spent over six months planning the project which took place in two gardens in King Alfred Terrace, Winchester, courtesy of householders Chris and Anne Prior and Justine Field. Over 150 people of all ages took part, of whom 42 were under 18.

Dr John Crook and Hyde900 chairman Steve Marper continue the excavation as householder Chris Prior looks on

Dr John Crook and Hyde900 chairman Steve Marper continue the excavation as householder Chris Prior looks on

Pupil from St Bede’s school digging trench 1 in householder Justine Field’s garden

Pupil from St Bede’s school digging trench 1 in householder Justine Field’s garden

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Dr John Crook, Consultant Archaeologist of Winchester Cathedral and a leading expert on the ecclesiastical architecture of the period, was architectural advisor to the project. He discussed the finds and explained what further information they revealed about Hyde Abbey. The abbey was described as being “in ruins” after the war between King Stephen and Queen Matilda in 1141, when it was recorded that the abbey was set alight by soldiers in the battle that took place in Winchester at that time. The surprise of the subsequent analysis of the dig was the discovery of the date of reuse of the abacus stones. Pieces of charcoal in the bedding mortar of the stones enabled Hyde900 to send the samples for ‘dendro’ dating. The subsequent results indicated a most probable reuse date of 1300 to 1350, ie over 150 years after the Abbey had been extensively damaged. The invaluable resource of the Hampshire Record Office contains the registers of the Bishops of Winchester. Research revealed an entry in 1311 of the then Bishop of Winchester, Bishop Woodlock, who recorded that all the churches in the diocese were ordered to make collections on behalf of the ruined abbey.

John Crook argued that the cloister was not destroyed in 1141 but that it had survived until the pieces were reused in the 14th century. The evidence is

  1. The fact that the voussoirs were whitewashed after the burning, as is visible  by close inspection of the stones.
  2. The fact that all the voussoirs of similar design were available in order to be incorporated in the north-south wall, suggesting that the cloister was progressively demolished immediately prior to reuse. I would go further and suggest that because the springer design hints at an alternating system of voussoir design, one team was probably demolishing the arcade while the other team built them into the wall.

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One of the reused abaci showing charcoal embedded in the mortar layer

One of the reused abaci showing charcoal embedded in the mortar layer

Page from the register of Bishop Woodlock (Hampshire Record Office 21M65/A1/1)

Page from the register of Bishop Woodlock (Hampshire Record Office 21M65/A1/1)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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