HS2 archaeology: July open weekend planned at dig

Tickets for Stoke Mandeville field museum visits should be available to book from June 28

Wednesday, 16th June 2021, 1:58 pm
A large tent has been erected over the site
A large tent has been erected over the site

HS2 has announced there will be another open weekend in July at its archaeological dig at Stoke Mandeville, after tickets for the second open weekend were snapped up in just three hours.

A spokesman told the Advertiser: "Due to the government announcement about the next stage of Covid-19 restrictions, we are unable to add any additional tickets for the field museum open days during June.

“We are now adding some additional dates - June 10 and 11."

Archaeologists at the dig at St Mary's Church, Stoke Mandeville

Tickets will be available to book from 10am on Monday June 28 and booking for these dates will close at 5pm on Thursday, July 8.”

Booking will be available here."

At the dig, archaeologists working in preparation for HS2 have been unlocking almost 900 years of history at St Mary’s Church in Stoke Mandeville.

The Old St Mary’s Church in Stoke Mandeville was built in 1080AD, shortly after the Norman conquest that transformed Saxon England. Renovated in the 13th, 14th and 17th centuries, it played a central role in the community, furnished with a variety of extensions and the construction of a brick bell tower. The site sits on the line of the new HS2 route and is being carefully removed by a team from LP-Archaeology, working with HS2’s enabling works contractor, Fusion-JV.

Work continues inside the field museum

The construction of a new church closer to the centre of the village in the 1880s saw the building abandoned and falling into disrepair. According to local accounts, a child was killed by falling masonry in the 1930s, and by 1966 the building was considered so dangerous that the Royal Engineers were drafted in to demolish it. Over the next 50 years the rubble pile left became overgrown with vegetation, blending into the surrounding greenery, meaning newcomers to the area may have been unaware of the existence of the church building there previously.

The St Mary’s site is unique and the HS2 scheme is providing a rare opportunity to excavate and understand the history of this building, how its use and meaning changed over time and what it meant to the community of Stoke Mandeville. The burial ground at St Mary’s was in use for 900 years, with the last recorded interment in 1908. The team of 40 archaeologists working on the site will be able to construct a picture of the role of St Mary’s in the local community from its construction in the 11th century through to its decline in the late 19th century.

Helen Wass, Head of Heritage for HS2 Ltd said: “HS2’s unparalleled archaeological programme is well underway and the start of works at St Mary’s offers an exceptional opportunity for archaeologists to uncover and shine a light on what life was like for the community of Stoke Mandeville over such a timespan.

“All artefacts and human remains uncovered will be treated with dignity, care and respect and our discoveries will be shared with the community through open days and expert lectures. HS2’s archaeology programme seeks to engage with all communities both local and nationally to share the information and knowledge gained as well as leaving a lasting archival and skills legacy.”

Dr Rachel Wood, Project Archaeologist for Fusion JV, said: “The excavation of the medieval church at St Mary’s will offer real insight into what life was like in Stoke Mandeville for over nine centuries. Those buried there will be remembered once again and the lives they lived over 900 years understood. The best way to honour the dead is to understand their stories and how they lived their lives. Ultimately, this is what the works at the site of Old St Mary’s church will do, providing a lasting legacy to the present community of Stoke Mandeville.”