Church Nave of Hyde’s Medieval Abbey Located For the First Time

datePosted on 19:21, May 10th, 2022

Despite being the burial place of Alfred the Great, the nave of the huge church under the gardens of Hyde has never been found. Over 80 metres long, it has remained hidden beneath the houses, gardens and roads in Hyde. The recent Hyde900 dig has now located the north wall for the first time, only some 80cm below the garden of 6, King Alfred Place.

Sculptured beakhead

Householders, Paul and Kat McCulloch had already had their garden dug at the 2020 Hyde900 Community Dig, but no remains of the abbey were found apart from demolition materials left over after the destruction of the abbey. However, that dig and the following year’s dig, in no less that four other gardens in the vicinity indicated that the trench in number 6 missed the north wall of the nave by only two or three metres.

Dig organiser David Spurling commented

When we put together the new information from previous digs and had the results from the University of Winchester’s ground penetrating radar survey done by David Ashby, we talked it over with Paul, and Kat who jumped at the offer that we could once again dig the garden again – but to avoid Kat’s peony.!

Consequently, Hyde900 organised a limited scale single trench dig, to be staffed by some of Hyde900’s experienced volunteers as it was expected that any remains would be at least 1.5 metres below the grass. As ever Professor Martin Biddle took a keen interest in the plans, and visited the dig at an early stage, being in Winchester for the launch of a further volume in the Winchester Excavations series.

After an early find of a Morris Minor bumper and plenty of demolition rubble left over from the Bridewell, the prison built in 1793 over the site of the church, the team were delighted to see the remains of the core of a medieval wall, amazingly only 80cm below ground level.  Further digging revealed a huge foundation, for what can only be the north wall of the church, no less than 2.7 metres in width. Most stonework from the abbey has been robbed over time for reuse, so the team were delighted that the trench revealed some intact facing stonework to the north, next to the wall, floor surfaces to the south. 

Martin Biddle expressed his pleasure at the results

Hyde: not just another great abbey, one of the greatest in the country. We know this now thanks to those whose treasured gardens sit on top of the abbey church, and yet let us dig them up!

The trench this summer has revealed the hugely thick north wall of the nave and shows for the first time just how vast the abbey really was

The delight of Paul and Kat at the dig’s results was obvious

This dig has achieved results far beyond our expectations. To find intact stonework from the 12th century abbey is rare; the excavation now confirms the exact location of the abbey nave. In addition, the find of a rare sculptured beakhead, perhaps representing a mythical beast, such as a Griffin, was a bonus. It is most likely to be a fragment of a voussoir (the wedge-shaped stone which is part of an arch) forming one of the orders of the arch over the doorway to the church. This will shortly be on display in Winchester Museum.

The results of the dig enabled the Hyde900 expert cartographer Dave Stewart to redraw the north wall abbey church with certainty, but the west end is perhaps for the next annual Hyde900 Community dig scheduled for 18th to 21st August. More information on the dig, and to register interest in taking part, please click here

We were delighted that the BBC sent a crew down to film the results of the dig prior to backfilling and featured the dig in a two minute piece on South Today.

Householder Paul McCulloch describing the beakhead find to visitors at the Open Day

Looking south, showing the floor layer of the church, most probably having been covered with tiles

Foundation of the north wall of the church with adjacent buttress

We were delighted to welcome Barbara Hall. Founder and major mover behind the Hyde Abbey Garden (left) discussing the dig with householder Kat McCulloch

Early diggers (L to R) Karen McCleary, Fran Sluman, Ginny Pringle make the first find – of a Morris Minor bumper

BBC South filming the start of backfilling

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