The finds from two years of successful ‘community digs’ organised by Hyde900 culminating in an extraordinary discovery of medieval architecture will be on display in Winchester City Museum from early next year.
Following the most important archaeological investigations of the Hyde Abbey site for 20 years, a series of voussoirs (wedge-shaped stones) was excavated in the spring of 2017 and 2018 in a back garden in King Alfred Terrace (adjacent to River Park) by ‘citizen archaeologists’ working under the expert eye of David Ashby from WARG. These were subsequently identified by leading archaeological experts Professor Martin Biddle and Dr. John Crook as being almost certainly from the cloisters of the abbey which occupied the area until the 16th century.
Also discovered were abaci, the flat base stones which act as a layer between a ‘capital’ on the top of a column and the rest of the arch. Remarkably, these abaci matched exactly the Hyde Abbey capitals displayed in St. Bartholomew’s Church, Hyde. As a result, a cloister arch has been able to be reconstructed in full by the Hyde900 team to provide unprecedented insight into the appearance of a major feature within the medieval abbey.
“To have now a complete set of capital, abaci and voussoirs is enormously satisfying,” said David Spurling, who led the project on behalf of Hyde900. “The beautiful capitals in St. Bart’s had given us a clue as to what the cloisters might have looked like, but to have discovered the highly decorated voussoirs as well has clarified just how impressive the cloisters would have appeared in their hey-day. The arch deserves to be prominently displayed so that residents and visitors get a better understanding of the significance of the abbey’s architecture and status.”
David Spurling paid tribute to the generosity and public spiritedness of King Alfred Terrace householders Chris and Anne Prior, Justine Fields and Chris Scott who permitted hundreds of volunteers to excavate their gardens over the course of two digs. “Without the enthusiasm and support of the King Alfred Terrace residents, none of this would have happened,” stressed David Spurling. “It is now even more generous of the Priors to permit the stones found in their backyard to go on public display in the museum.”
“This is a site of national historical significance which was almost entirely erased following the dissolution of the monasteries,” said Hyde900 Chair, Steve Marper. “Discoveries such as the voussoirs, however, are enabling us to put the abbey firmly on the Winchester heritage map.”
After further restoration, the arch will be viewable in Winchester’s City Museum, which is operated by Hampshire Cultural Trust (HCT) after refurbishment of the first floor in early 2019.
“The finds are a poignant reminder of the sheer destruction of Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries” commented Janet Owen, Chief Executive Officer at HCT. “All that remains of the abbey today is its impressive gatehouse, so the reconstructed arch offers an important and extremely rare glimpse into the interior of this once magnificent minster,” she says.
Other highlights of the ancient capital of England can be found on the Historic Winchester pages of HCT’s new website – www.historicwinchester.org.uk – where visitors can immerse themselves in the remarkable and fascinating history, stories and essential landmarks of the city.
“This new website brings Winchester’s extraordinary past alive, joining up its heritage attractions and revealing many of the city’s hidden gems,” Janet explains. She adds: “We are sure the website will become a hugely popular resource for residents and visitors who want to learn more not just about Winchester’s heritage but the rich cultural offer across Hampshire. From the Hyde Abbey arch to Buffalo Bill’s gun, an ancient Roman lead curse tablet and an extraordinary wedding cake that was made in 1898, the new website reveals some of the fascinating and fabulous objects that are part of the collections cared for by Hampshire Cultural Trust and that can be seen in galleries and museums throughout the county.”
www.hampshireculture.org.uk also has information about current and forthcoming exhibitions, events, talks and workshops, plus details of the county’s cultural and historical venues and their collections.