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Secrets of historic abbey unearthed

PUBLISHED: 11:04 18 October 2008 | UPDATED: 21:33 05 July 2010

TELEVISION presenter and historian Tony Robinson and the rest of the Time Team have visited Suffolk to unearth the ruins of an historic abbey.

The three-day dig, which started on Tuesday, was carried out in the grounds of The Priory, in Blythburgh, after its owners Nick and Susan Haward invited the Channel 4 programme along after Mr Haward, a builder, discovered bones when he started digging in the garden to lay a new patio.

TELEVISION presenter and historian Tony Robinson and the rest of the Time Team have visited Suffolk to unearth the ruins of an historic abbey.

The three-day dig, which started on Tuesday, was carried out in the grounds of The Priory, in Blythburgh, after its owners Nick and Susan Haward invited the Channel 4 programme along after Mr Haward, a builder, discovered bones when he started digging in the garden to lay a new patio.

Philip Clarke, Time Team's executive producer, said: “Nick and Susan contacted the team after they found these bones and they told us that they also had some ruins in their garden which were believed to be all that remains of Blythburgh Abbey.

“We were intrigued as no one has done any work on the site and we wanted to discover more.

“Now we have a raft of experts on board and they tend to be able to say 'well, this is an abbey and it will have looked like this with walls here and here', but once we started it soon became obvious that this was not the case.

“As such it was quite a difficult dig, much more complicated than we had first thought it was going to be, but finally as the light was failing on Thursday evening we managed to find the east wall of the abbey - the east end being the most important, business end of a church - and from that we were able to map the rest of the site.

“The abbey was much bigger than we had expected and although when it was dissolved it was poor it was clear from what we discovered that at one time it had been very wealthy.”

“There has also been some speculation that the Saxon king Anna, a close relation of Sutton Hoo's Raedwald, had been buried in a Saxon Minster, in Blythburgh, and that the abbey had been built on top of this wooden structure. But our excavations seemed to indicate that this was not the case as we found very little wooden debris - so we concluded that the most likely site is that of the parish church.

“It was a challenging dig, but this was more than made up by the fascinating location.”

Mr Haward added: “It was really exciting to have the team here and to find out more about the ruins, the whole process was fascinating.

“I would like to thank everyone from Time Team they were so friendly and considerate about what they were doing.”

Local residents were also given a tour of the site and the experts spent more than an hour showing them the various finds which included a skeleton, a human skull and of course the priory church's walls.

Resident Colin Huggins said: “It was very interesting, of course we are all familiar with The Priory but it was fascinating to see what was there in the past.”

The programme will be screened on Channel 4 in March next year.

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