Anglo-Saxon treasures which date back as far as 700AD have been unearthed during a major archaelogical dig at a historic North Warwickshire site.
Dating back almost 1,200 years, Polesworth Abbey, near Tamworth, a Scheduled Ancient Monument, is steeped in centuries of history – some of which has just been unearthed for the first time in hundreds of years.
Originally a Benedictine nunnery which was founded in the 9th century by St Modwena and King Egbert, a near 200-strong team of local people, aged 12 to in their 80s, has spent the last six weeks carefully excavating land on the river side of the abbey as part of a community archaeological dig.
Supported by a professional team from Northamptonshire Archaeology, the team’s goal was to find any secrets hidden in the soil on the site of the monastery’s former kitchen and refectory.
And it’s reaped some “exciting” “amazing” and “interesting” rewards.
The oldest find has been a decorated Anglo-Saxon pin dating back to 700-900 AD and another of the most significant treasures unearthed is up to 1,000 “valuable” and “very, very, rare” decorated medieval floor tiles.
Father Philip Wells, who has been at the Abbey for 16 years, said: “Three years ago the Secretary of State gave permission for some trial archaeology to take place on the site and it was incredibly exciting to find two of these medieval tiles, and now we have got barrow loads of them.
“This amazing stash probably amounts to around 1,000 tiles. A tile maker has told us that the designs of some of the medieval tiles, which would have been made on site, are very, very, rare for Warwickshire.
“We should know more in a couple of weeks about who made the tiles as the same person also made some of the bricks here and what is amazing is that there were guilds at the time which kept records of all brickmakers.”
He added: “The Anglo-Saxon pin was another interesting find. We’re unlikely to find anything earlier than this as the original foundations of the Abbey would be in the 800s.”
Other items the community – 97 per cent of volunteers live within three miles of the Abbey – have unearthed include an almost complete medieval window frame, a medieval lead cloth seal, George 1st to George 5th coins, clay pipe, fragments of medieval glass, roof tiles and pottery, some of which has been described as “quite elaborate”.
Community archeologist Tim Upson-Smith said some buildings not seen for hundreds of years had been uncovered as some of the Abbey foundations had also been excavated.
It was decided to excavate the refectory and kitchen area ahead of plans to create a new refectory to cater for the hundreds of visitors who make the pilgrimage to the site every year.
It is hoped some of the dig volunteers will be able to get involved in the creation of the new refectory at a later date.
It is the second major excavation at the site. Last year four trenches were excavated, including the area of the Chapter House and former dormitories.
One of its most significant discoveries was that what was believed to be the infirmary turned out to be a burial chamber, complete with medieval skeletons.
Fr Wells added: “This was amazing and unexpected, especially to find skeletons from the 1200s. But it would not have been as exciting if it was a normal archaeological dig, where archaeologists are used to finding skeletons.
“But the fact this was a community dig made it all the more special because it was discovered by local people, giving them a link to their heritage. For they have touched the past and the lives they link to.
“They’re making their own history – the stories of discoveries at both digs are those which they will tell to their own grandchildren in the future.
“This is a very atmospheric place, and giving this opportunity to people is a physical manifestation of the spiritual side of the site and that has been really great.”
After the dissolution of the monasteries, the site continued to have historic significance by becoming the site of a school where a number of acclaimed poets are said to have been educated, including Michael Drayton, Ben Jonson and John Donne.
It even lays claim that William Shakespeare was schooled on the site, and in a link to its poetic past, local people have also created poetry to describe the dig and its finds.
The digs have been funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, The Arts Council of England and North Warwickshire Borough Council.
This year’s dig is due to end on September 8. The site is open every day from 2.15pm for tours.
• Visit www.digtheabbey.co.uk for more details.