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Exploratory Archaeological Dig on Site of Medieval Village

On Monday 9th May 2011 several exploratory trenches were dug on the site of the Lyonshall Medieval Village immediately to the west of the Lyonshall Memorial Hall. These were initiated by Herefordshire County Council Archaeology Department ahead of the anticipated ploughing up of the field for a crop of maize.

The site was first identified as being the location of the medieval village by John & Sarah Zaluckyj of Stores Row, Lyonshall, in 1995. In the year 2000 County Archaeologist Dr Keith Ray advertised the site in the local press and in various papers documenting the then-known history of the site. It comes as some surprise therefore to find in 2011 that there appears to be no legal protection for this valuable historic site.

An aerial view is shown here - in winter, with a snow-covered site and with low sun casting shadows across the depressions and marks on the surface of the field. The picture on the left (taken by Chris Musson on behalf of the Woolhope Club) shows the Castle & Church at the top centre of the picture, with the Memorial Hall about two-thirds of the way down the picture in the centre. The picture on the right is a detailed view concentrating just on the site of the Medieval Village, with the Memorial Hall at the bottom right. Click on the pictures for an enhanced view.

English Heritage had been approached in around 2004 with a request to list the site as a protected historic monument, but for one reason or another this application fell by the wayside. They were again asked as a matter of some urgency, in the Spring of 2011, to list the site, and they produced a report on the matter recommending against the scheduling of the site on the grounds that it is insufficiently valuable. Depending upon whom is consulted, this report appears to be seriously deficient and incorrect. It certainly contains a number of factual inaccuracies. There has been no effective local consultation on the issue, either from Herefordshire County Archaeology or from English Heritage.

Access to the digs has been permitted to the general public by the landowner, David Hutton of the Ovals Farm. There appears to be a temporary stay on the ploughing on the site near to the Memorial Hall, on the part of the field to the east and north of the footpath crossing the field.

The tenant farmer, Mr Graham Morgan of Almeley and Tillington, is proceeding with the ploughing of the south-western end of the site (beyond the footpath which crosses the field) in readiness for Maize planting as winter fodder for his beef cattle. The first cultivation is with an aerator plough, going down to depths of 18" to loosen the subsoil and to aerate. The second cultivation is with a normal five furrow reversible plough, to a depth of approximately 8".

Roger Phillips (left) has only recently become aware of the threat to the historical site, and has held discussions with the Landowner, David Hutton, and with his tenant Graham Morgan. The temporary stay in activity at the Memorial Hall end of the field is as a consequence of this intervention, and thanks to David Hutton's goodwill.

Local MP Bill Wiggin (right) has been contacted by a concerned parishioner, and Bill has referred the matter to Jeremy Hunt MP, Secretary of State of Culture, Media & Sport who holds final decision making powers on scheduling designations.

It is unclear at the moment as to whether or not the medieval village site adjacent to the Memorial Hall will go under the plough in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, Herefordshire County Archaeological Department has arranged an emergency week of work to explore the site by means of exploratory ditches in five different locations on the site. The general public is welcome to visit these exploratory trenches and to examine any finds. The five locations for the trenches have been designed to maximise the chance of finding any remains under the ground which might still exist, but as one of the employees on the site said, "It is like the game of battleships - we might not hit anything, given the short time available."

A map of the site has been added to this website, showing the approximate locations of the trenches - click here to view it.

In the trench closest to the Memorial Hall (see picture right, and detail left) some stonework has been revealed, and this may have been a pathway or a floor within a building. Interestingly, a very old and corroded black-iron water pipe overlays the path, and this pipe may well have been the original water supply to the Memorial Hall built in the 1930's.

It is highly likely that nothing of any material significance will be found by means of the exploratory trenches, given that they are so far apart and that most of the buildings will have been constructed of wood with no or very shallow footings. The question will still stand - should the site be preserved simply because of the outstanding preservation of the surface earthworks, marking the boundaries of burgage plots, buildings and trackways making up the medieval village?



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