A two-week excavation to unearth a long-lost Tudor garden and banqueting house at Sudeley Castle has begun.
The public dig aims to unearth secrets of Sudeley that have remained hidden underground for hundreds of years. Visitors to the castle, in Winchcombe, near Cheltenham, will be able to see the dig as it gets underway from Tuesday May 21 until Sunday June 2.
A host of archaeology-themed events are on offer at the castle throughout May half term as part of the event, including guided talks and tours of the dig site and children’s historical discovery activities.
The excavation will be led by a team of archaeologists from DigVentures who will create three trenches in the castle’s Hop Field, behind the famous Queens’ Garden. As well as visiting the dig site, visitors to the castle will be able to see the artefacts found by diggers and chat to experts about what has been discovered.
The excavation is set to be the most significant archaeological investigation at the attraction since the discovery of Roman villas on the estate in Victorian times.
It comes after a successful test dig at the castle in October which revealed evidence of one of England’s last surviving Tudor gardens - hidden in the castle grounds for nearly 300 years. Initial findings included fragments of post-medieval pottery, masonry and animal bones, consistent with garden archaeology.
Further explorations of a mound, discovered in the middle of the field, could now confirm that it was once the site of a temporary banqueting house and the location of a huge celebration by Elizabeth I as part of her progress around the country to mark her victory over the Spanish Armada.
Sudeley Castle’s general manager, Wendy Walton, said: “This archaeological dig is a hugely exciting and rare opportunity for members of the public to witness the re-emergence of a thrilling piece of Tudor history.
“Finding an intact Tudor garden is an astonishingly special occurrence. Bringing it back to the surface would be an amazing achievement and gives us the chance to find out what it would have been like in the days when Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth I and Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s last wife, walked its pathways.”
Lisa Westcott Wilkins from DigVentures, added: “This buried garden is believed to be one of England’s last surviving Tudor gardens. Most were destroyed in the 18th and 19th centuries when a popular landscaping craze swept the country. We think it is one of perhaps only two in the whole country where the original paths are still in place.”
The effort is being supported by historian and author Philippa Gregory, who said: “There’s a tremendous amount of history in the ground there, which no one has seen since it was buried. I’m really excited about this project and can’t wait to see what gets found.”
Sudeley Castle was one of the Tudors’ most treasured palaces, often housing those closest to the crown. It’s where Anne Boleyn stayed with Henry VIII while he decided to dissolve the monasteries, and where Katherine Parr, Henry’s last wife, lived after he died. She now lies entombed in the Castle’s church.
Today Sudeley Castle is widely recognised as one of the most romantic and beautiful castles in England, surrounded by a 1,200 acre estate and 10 award-winning gardens, which are now full of spring colour.
The castle’s huge fun fort, adventure playground, obstacle course and willow maze offer hours of fun for younger visitors. Throughout this year, visitors can also take part in a new, free pebble trail throughout the gardens, which celebrates bees and butterflies. The trail guides visitors throughout the castle gardens to find out more about these fascinating creatures and how we can help protect them.
Entrance to the dig site and all activities are included in general castle admission.