Secrets of Buckinghamshire’s past set to be unearthed as HS2 begins archaeology work

Secrets of Buckinghamshires past set to be unearthed as HS2 begins archaeology work
Secrets of Buckinghamshires past set to be unearthed as HS2 begins archaeology work

Archaeologists on the HS2 project in Buckinghamshire have begun work as part of Europe’s largest archaeological dig where HS2 will be exploring over 10,000 years of British history along the 150 mile route from London to the West Midlands.

Many sites of significant archaeological interest are known in Buckinghamshire, with more to be found, giving archaeologists, conservators, period and heritage experts and other specialists from across the UK the opportunity to explore the county’s history and heritage.

Archaeological sites in Buckinghamshire include:

· prehistoric settlement in the Colne Valley

· prehistoric/Iron Age settlement in Great Missenden

· Grim’s Ditch - a Bronze Age ditch system between Wendover and Great Missenden.

· St. Mary’s - a demolished medieval church and burial ground near Stoke Mandeville.

· a Romano-British town in Fleet Marston near Aylesbury

· a Romano-British and medieval village and a farm in Doddershall

· an eighteenth century park and garden at Hartwell

· an Anglo-Saxon medieval settlement in Chetwode

The derelict church and burial ground of St Mary the Virgin in Stoke Mandeville presents a unique opportunity to study the buried population dating from at least the 12th to the early 20th century. This will allow archaeologists, scientists and historians the opportunity to retell the 1,000 year story of the development of a village and its inhabitants as they survived some of Britain’s most important historical events.

At Fleet Marston archaeologists are likely to uncover the remains of a large part of a Romano-British town. They expect to find not just evidence of the settlement, the road network that surrounded it and an amazing array of artefacts, but possibly a cemetery too. Archaeologists will also be able to compare the finds at Fleet Marston to those at nearby smaller farming settlements at Stoke Mandeville and Doddershall to investigate different ways of living in the Roman countryside. This will show is how the population changed and adapted to the waves of incoming migrants at the end of Roman rule.

Commenting on the launch of the archaeology programme, Helen Wass, HS2 Head of Heritage said:

“Buckinghamshire is rich in history and HS2’s careful and planned archaeology work will be a unique opportunity to add to our understanding of the county’s development. From the prehistoric settlements in the south, a demolished Anglo-Saxon church and burial ground in Stoke Mandeville to Romano-British and medieval sites in in the north, HS2’s archaeology programme in Buckinghamshire has it all.

“We’re already finding interesting artefacts in the area – including intact pottery from the medieval period in Stoke Mandeville and we’re just at the very beginning of the archaeological work. The scientific and research possibilities are abundant.

“All artefacts and human remains will be treated with dignity, care and respect and our discoveries will be shared with communities through open days, expert lectures and the BBC documentary we are filming. This is a very exciting time for archaeology in Buckinghamshire.

“The sheer scale of possible discoveries, the geographical span and the vast range of our history to be unearthed makes HS2’s archaeology programme a unique opportunity to tell the story of Buckinghamshire and Britain.”

The archaeological sites in Buckinghamshire form part of a wider archaeological programme. Over the next two years, more than 1,000 archaeologists, period specialists, scientists and conservators from across the UK will be exploring and recording over 60 archaeological sites from London to Birmingham.

Ranging from the Prehistoric period to Roman Britain, the Anglo-Saxon and Medieval periods, the Industrial Revolution and World War Two, HS2’s archaeology programme will be Europe’s biggest dig and promises to provide a fascinating insight into the everyday lives of the people and communities who made modern Britain.

Commenting on HS2’s archaeology programme, Mark Thurston, HS2 Chief Executive said:

“How we build HS2 is as important to us as what we are building and we are committed to sharing as much of our cultural heritage as possible. Before we bore the tunnels, lay the tracks and build the stations, an unprecedented amount of archaeological research is now taking place between London and Birmingham. This is the largest archaeological exploration ever in Britain, employing a record number of skilled archaeologists and heritage specialists from all across the country and beyond.

“As well as improving connectivity, generating 30,000 new jobs and creating a network of new wildlife habitats, our archaeology programme shows that HS2 is more than a railway; it’s an opportunity to tell the story of our past, create opportunities in the present and leave a lasting legacy for generations to come.”

Highlights along the HS2 line of route include:

· exploring a prehistoric hunter-gatherer site on the outskirts of London

· researching an undiscovered multi-period site (Bronze and Iron Age, Roman, Anglo-Saxon and Medieval) in Northamptonshire

· excavating a Romano-British town in Fleet Marston, Aylesbury

· uncovering the remains of a medieval manor in Warwickshire

· finding out more about the Black Death and its impact on medieval villages

· re-telling the story of a Buckinghamshire village through the careful excavation of a 1,000 year old demolished medieval church and burial ground.

· comparing and contrasting the lives of the buried population in two Georgian/Victorian burial grounds in London and Birmingham.

· discovering a WW2 bombing decoy in Lichfield

HS2 has granted BBC Two access to this pioneering project, to be documented in a new series made by Lion TV, due on air in 2019/20 presented by Prof. Alice Roberts.

HS2 will also share the finds with local communities through a series of open days and talks and will create a permanent archival legacy of artefacts and discoveries for future generations.

Welcoming the launch of HS2's archaeology work, Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England said:

“With the building of HS2 comes a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve our understanding of how people have shaped England’s landscapes over thousands of years, from the first prehistoric farmers through Roman and Saxon and Viking incomers to the more recent past.

"Historic England is working closely with HS2 archaeologists so we can make sure that this opportunity is seized and we are advising on how we can get the best possible results from the discoveries.”