Archaeological dig uncovers Anglesey Abbey’s past
PUBLISHED: 10:01 26 April 2020
Archaeologists have carried out a nine-day programme of surveying and excavation to investigate the medieval history of Anglesey Abbey in Cambridgeshire.
The project by the National Trust and Oxford Archaeology East was started to develop a better understanding of the site’s previous roles as a medieval hospital and Augustinian Priory.
After starting in March, work on the project was drawn to a close early as the country responded to the coronavirus outbreak. But early finds have already shone light on the history of the site.
Geophysical survey results and parch marks identified from aerial photographs have revealed the outline of buildings which appear to be a priory church and cloister, believed to have been originally built in the thirteenth century.
Along with information from documentary records and prior geophysical and earthwork surveys, this new evidence will be used to help understand the site’s medieval history and develop how the National Trust tells the story of Anglesey Abbey’s origins and development.
The project, called Unearthing Our Past, brought together archaeologists from within the Trust and external partners including Oxford Archaeology East and volunteers from Jigsaw Cambridgeshire.
Jigsaw Cambridgeshire is a community archaeology group that assists local history and archaeological societies in historical research, excavation, artefact identification, recording, and much more.
Work started on March 16 and saw two test pits dug by hand on the front lawn at Anglesey Abbey.
The site of the first trench was chosen to investigate the possible chantry chapel at the east end of the priory church, with archaeologists discovering the eastern wall of the chapel. Several pieces of stained-glass window were found in this trench, suggesting that there was a decorated window at the east end of the church.
The chapel wall, thought to date to the 13th century, was sealed beneath the foundations of an 18th century garden wall.
In the second trench, evidence was found for what may be the cloister walkway and the north wall of the church. More stained glass, and a piece of decorated floor tile were found in this trench.
The discovery of a large pillar base which may have the support for a rising stone staircase, hints that the night stairs, leading from the dormitory to the church transept, were also located here. There was also evidence for the 17th and 18th century occupation of the house, with wall remnants associated with a garden as well as padlock, possible Delft ware pottery and the remains of a set of 18th century scales, presumably thrown out from the kitchens when the gardens and house were remodelled.
Shannon Hogan, Archaeologist for the National Trust in the East of England, said: “Despite the project being cut short due to the coronavirus outbreak, the excavation has given us a really tantalising glimpse into the survival and complexity of the medieval church remains at Anglesey Abbey.
“We’ve come away with more knowledge and information about the site and exciting plans to develop archaeological research in the future.
“I look forward to welcoming more people to experience the site as and when we are able to continue the work there.”
Aileen Connor, senior project manager with Oxford Archaeology Ltd, added: “Like thousands of other visitors, I feel a special connection with Anglesey Abbey.
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“It is right on my doorstep and I have visited countless times with friends, relatives or on my own.”
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