William the Conqueror discovery found by archaeologist
Excavators working in the back gardens of homes up and down the country have uncovered a list of ancient relics, giving a sneak peak into Britain’s colourful history. In the last episode of More4’s ‘The Great British Dig’, the team uncovered William the Conqueror’s lost priory at Lenton in Nottingham. With it, archaeologists potentially discovered the exact site where Philip Marc, the infamous Sheriff of Nottingham, was buried in the 13th century.
Marc has historically been portrayed as one of the worst Sheriffs Nottingham has ever seen.
A more villainous version of him directly fought Robin Hood in the short story, ‘The Walnut-Hued Man of Sutton Passeys’ by Jean Rabe.
Marc was appointed Sheriff in 1208 during King John’s reign.
Sheriffs were not paid by the monarch, instead relying on making money through extortion.
Archaeology: The team found bones that could have once belonged to the Sheriff of Nottingham
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In Lenton, a commemorative structure stands in the rough location of where researchers believed Marc was buried, in the general area of the priory.
During the programme, however, one of the team’s lead archaeologists, Natasha Billson, suggested that some of the remains found in the excavations could actually have belonged to Marc.
Located within close proximity to where the priory would have once stood, Ms Billson explained the jaw bone she was holding, or perhaps some of the other finds, could well have once belonged to the Sheriff.
She said this was because Marc had paid a vast sum to be buried right next to the priory, in the belief that the closer he was to it, “the quicker he would ascend to heaven”.
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High-status and wealthy individuals like Marc would have paid large amounts of money to the priory in order to be entombed and buried close to the place of worship.
Yet, as the team worked through the site, a huge number of bones and pottery items started to turn up.
It proved, they said, that the site’s social makeup wouldn’t have been exclusively inhabited by the likes of Marc and his high-flying colleagues and religious figures.
Instead, commoners would also have once lived in near the priory, and were perhaps even buried there.
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Human remains: One of the bone fragments included a human skull
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This hypothesis was furthered when another archaeologist on the team, Dr Chloe Duckworth, discovered a medieval cobbled path as the dig was coming to an end.
Almost two metres beneath the surface in one of the gardens outside the priory walls, she said the site was full of “pure Medieval pottery, nothing else”, proving a once thriving commoner population was a stone’s throw away from the church.
It took the team a long time to find any trace of the priory.
A jumble of stones was first found in Terry and Simon’s garden, whose home sat directly above where the priory was illustrated on old maps.
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Archaeologist Richard Taylor came across loose rubble, but was at first unconvinced of it belonging to the structure.
Medieval stone specialist James Wright was brought in to examine the debris, similarly sceptical as the rocks were not joined and had no mortar between them.
However, as Mr Wright noted: “We have got mortar on some of these stones, and it’s been built into a wall at some point, and then been pulled apart.”
Mr Taylor then suggested that the pair were talking about the “dissolution” that would have happened as part of King Henry VIII’s ‘Dissolution of the Monasteries’.
Between 1536 and 1541, Henry VIII disbanded monasteries, priories, convents and friaries in England, Wales and Ireland.
He expropriated their income and disposed of their assets.
While the policy was originally envisaged in order to increase the personal income of the Crown, much of what was taken was later sold off and used to fund Henry’s military campaigns in the 1540s.
Medieval: Cobbles hailing from the medieval period were also found just outside the pirory walls
Identifying the rock found in the garden, Mr Wright said much of it appeared to coincide with the types of material Medieval craftsmen would have used.
Mr Taylor concluded: “What you’re saying is that we’ve got all the ingredients for a priory structure that has been demolished?”
Mr Wright replied: “That’s it, exactly.”
The rest of the team chipped in and the foundations of the outer priory wall, and an undiscovered lady chapel, were soon established.
Dr Duckworth said: “This is exactly what we’ve been looking for, the actual buildings, a part of that building, coming out here and we’ve just caught it in this trench which is fabulous.”
You can catch up on all episodes of ‘The Great British Dig’ on All 4.