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Medieval Manor Mysteriously Emerges

Monday, July 29, 2013

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What began as a routine excavation for a housing development has swelled into a full-blown encounter with unknown medieval wealth, power and mystery.

A pre-construction archaeological dig in rural Somerset County in southwest England has revealed the foundations of multiple buildings from a medieval manor that no one knew existed.

The dig, required by the county council, began April 8 at a site in Longforth Farm in Wellington, Somerset. To the amazement of the archaeologists, it produced a major find: a series of buildings from the 12th through 14th centuries.

Somerset County UK dig
Photos, unless indicated: Wessex Archaeology

The discovery surprised historians. Manor houses are typically documented in local records.

"This is a significant find and therefore very exciting, particularly as there are no documentary records that such a site ever existed here," Wessex Archaeology's senior buildings archaeologist Bob Davis told Fox News.

"Such things are as rare as hen's teeth."

'Exceptionally Mysterious'

All that remains from the mansion is the stone foundation and a few scraps of artifacts. Archaeologists are conducting a painstaking search to reconstruct what happened to the doors, windows, stones and other materials from the site, Fox reported.

Medieval artifacts
Steve Roberts

So far, archaeologists have found only small pieces of artifacts to help them reconstruct the structure's story.

"This sort of thing turning up—a large medieval building of such high status without any surviving historical records—it's exceptionally mysterious and strange," Steve Membery, senior historic environment officer for the Somerset Country Council, told ThisIsCornwall.co.uk.

Membery called the find "very unusual," because "normally you have the historic references—we know where all the mediaeval villages are—manor houses are well recorded."

So far, crews have found some glazed ceramic roof tiles and carefully decorated floor tiles, suggesting that the buildings were of high status, possibly used for religious services.

Davis told the paper that the structure "looks as if it's a previously unrecorded, undocumented, high-status, ecclesiastical manor house."

But as with the Lost Colony of Roanoke, NC, the details are left for today's experts to reconstruct.

"We do not yet know who owned or used the buildings,"  Wessex Archaeology community and education officer Laura Joyner told FoxNews.com. "They appear to form a distinct complex of buildings."

Locals Marvel

Bloor Homes and Wessex Archaeology opened the site to the public for a day, drawing about 1,400 local visitors. The Archaeology Day featured guided tours of the remains.

featured guided tours of the medieval remains under excavations and viewings of the latest finds.
 
- See more at: http://www.wessexarch.co.uk/blogs/news/2013/07/18/local-communities-flock-longforth-farm#sthash.vBaFesFb.dpuf
featured guided tours of the medieval remains under excavations and viewings of the latest finds.
 
- See more at: http://www.wessexarch.co.uk/blogs/news/2013/07/18/local-communities-flock-longforth-farm#sthash.vBaFesFb.dpuf
featured guided tours of the medieval remains under excavations and viewings of the latest finds.
 
- See more at: http://www.wessexarch.co.uk/blogs/news/2013/07/18/local-communities-flock-longforth-farm#sthash.vBaFesFb.dpuf
featured guided tours of the medieval remains under excavations and viewings of the latest finds.
 
- See more at: http://www.wessexarch.co.uk/blogs/news/2013/07/18/local-communities-flock-longforth-farm#sthash.vBaFesFb.dpuf
Archaeological dig

Archaeological teams carefully work the site in England where a medieval manor house was discovered. A homebuilder is planning 500 homes near the site.

"We are delighted to have been able to fund this excavation which has enabled Wessex Archaeology to examine and record this exciting find and to help the community understand more about Wellington's hidden heritage," Paul Talbor of Bloor Homes said in a statement.

A local reporter who attended Archaeology Day wrote:

"The shards of medieval decorated floor-tiles indicate that the place was once occupied by someone rich and powerful—moreover, another tile illustrated with a knight on horseback has added to the belief that the Longforth manor was a place visited by bishops and other VIPs of the day.

"The only other tile ever found like it is a well-known feature of Glastonbury Abbey."

The recent discovery of those tiles "have given us an avenue to pursue," Davis told the reporter. "They have raised the importance of this place for us."

Future Plans

The excavation is winding down, but the research will continue.

Medieval Tiles

The tile at left includes a checkered agent or shield motif, which possibly relates to the family name of St. Barbe, a medieval aristocratic British family, according to Wessex Archaeology. The tile at right depicts a helmeted King Richard I (1189-1199) on horseback, charging his enemy. The tile "would originally have had an opposing tile showing Saladin, Sultan of Egypt, also in a symbolic combat pose," according to Wessex. "These two great adversaries were involved in the Third Crusade (1189–1192) and are often depicted together on this type of floor tile."

Meanwhile, the local paper reports, a low-lying corner of the site will be formed into a pond to capture water run-off from the new 500-home development and protect the medieval ruins.

Archaeologists also believe some medieval construction sustainability practices have been at work in the hundreds of years since the manor house was active.

"Who knows?" said one. "Half the old buildings in Wellington could have 'borrowed' materials from this manor incorporated in their walls."

   

Tagged categories: Construction; Historic Preservation; Historic Structures; Project Management; Residential; Residential Construction

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