Home News Amateur historians heard the story of a lost Tudor palace. Then they...

Amateur historians heard the story of a lost Tudor palace. Then they dug it up.


Residents of Collyweston, a village on the River Welland in central England, have passed down stories for generations about grand Tudor palaces, royal processions through the valley and a king’s mother who made it her home.

For hundreds of years, these stories have been passed down, even though people’s memory of the palace’s whereabouts has faded. But when some amateur historians Parts of a long-lost palace unearthedburied under several feet of soil. Historians at York University confirmed their findings.

“We are a small village with a small group of enthusiastic people, and what we have achieved here is nothing short of a miracle,” said Chris Close, 49, Collyweston Historic Preservation Society“You know, it’s not every day that you get the opportunity to dig into your country’s history.”

Soft-spoken with a broad smile and a warm demeanor, Mr Close traces his family roots back 400 years to where he grew up in Collyweston. He remembers hearing stories about the palace as a child. The palace belonged to Lady Margaret Beaufort, who played a major role in the Wars of the Roses, a civil war for the English throne. She acquired the palace two years after her son was crowned Henry VII in 1487. He, his son Henry VIII and Elizabeth I all walked its halls.

The Tudor dynasty ended in 1603, and the palace fell into disrepair. Its contents were sold, parts were demolished or repurposed, and new buildings were built. The palace faded into history, disappearing into the dust. Almost.

Fast forward to 2017, and Mr. Close has become president of the historical society — somewhat by accident. History was never his passion, but he had promised his great-uncle, who had led the society, that he would help keep it going. A year after his great-uncle died, he made good on his promise.

Close, who worked by day for a British company that built new homes, took over the top job at a difficult time for the association. The association’s membership, mostly retirees, was dwindling and it had just 500 pounds, or about $635, in the bank. Meeting hours were spent poring over old records from Collyweston, but little was accomplished, and the few members who did were considering ending the meetings. Close knew he needed to inject some life into the meetings.

He changed the society’s newsletter from paper to email. He set up social media accounts. Most importantly, he asked members what they really wanted to follow. The answer was clear: they wanted to find Tudor palaces.

Villagers suspected that there was debris hiding beneath the soil, but with limited expertise and even less money, they didn’t have many clues.

“It was actually our naivety that got us through,” Close said with a laugh.

First, they relied on what little they knew about the palace’s history — including local legends that had been passed down for years.

Today, only a few pretty stone houses overlooking wide fields remain in Collyweston, population 564. But look closely and you can see glimpses of royal history, said Sandra Johnson, 68, a retired real estate agent who now does research for the historical society full time while also helping out with her grandchildren.

She noted that local residents had long referred to a walled garden in the area as the “Palace Garden,” and that some of the terraces and fish ponds carved into the landscape could still be seen.

“We know it’s here,” she said with a broad smile on her face. “It’s just a matter of finding the evidence to prove it.”

For months, the team pored over old maps and records. But they had only limited success.

Around that time, the organization Rachel Delman, PhDNow a historian at Oxford University, she was researching the palace at the time. Her work provides detailed descriptions of the palace’s architecture that she found in various historical archives.

Mr Close said the study “sheds a ray of light on the project”.

But the amateur historians soon realised that archaeology had become a high-tech activity and they needed to embrace technology, too. They applied for a grant and received enough money to hire a company to do drone surveys and geophysical scans of the village. The growing attention to their activities in Collyweston helped attract new members.

The real breakthrough came from Penetrate the Ground Radar scans in 2021 and 2022 showed human-made material beneath the soil. This guided them where to dig.

Last May, they found the first evidence of the palace walls: the base of a thick wall was clearly visible, which was later confirmed by experts.

The ultimate goal is to find enough artifacts to analyze and date. The team hopes to create a digital model of the palace to display in a small museum that Ms. Johnson manages in the sanctuary of the village church.

While discoveries of this era are not uncommon in Britain, historians applauded this find because of the important role the palace played in its time – and because it was discovered by an amateur group.

Professor Kate Giles, a historian at the University of York, noted that Britain had many local history societies, but in the case of Collyweston, “because it has a Tudor palace on its doorstep, it makes its work particularly interesting and exciting”.

Dr Delman, whose research helped launch the search, said the find had the potential to enrich public understanding of a former royal power base commissioned by a Tudor woman, “making it a site of national and international importance”.

In early February, volunteers took out their shovels for two days of excavation, one of several planned this year to get a better idea of ​​what the palace looked like.

At the end of a path, on a small patch of grass, a dozen residents — including young professionals, parents, a former prison officer and several retirees — dug in four roped-off trenches. Jennifer Browning, 50, an archaeologist with the University of Leicester’s Archaeological Service, had been hired to lead the day’s dig.

In one trench, crews carefully removed dirt that looked like slate flooring and foundation stones. In another trench, part of a wall had begun to emerge from the water.

“We just don’t know what it is, but they’re meant to be there,” Ms. Browning said, standing in a 3-by-5-foot ditch, pointing to three neatly arranged large rocks about two feet deep. “The problem is, in a small ditch like this, you can only get a small snapshot.”

So far, excavations have been carried out on private land, although the site is believed to be historical landmarkUnder UK law, the public has no right to access the area. The group has received permission from the owner to explore by digging a trench and then refilling it, but they only have a short weekend to do so as the owner plans to pave the grassy area soon.

“It’s interesting to see how it all fits together,” said volunteer James Mabbitt, 42, who has lived in Collyweston for the past decade, as he stood in the trench, measuring stones that could be from the Tudor era.

His wife, Melissa, 43, walked with her young daughter and other villagers who were curious about the work. “For a small place, it has such an amazing history,” enthused Ms. Mabbitt, noting that ancient Roman ruins had recently been discovered nearby. “I think it captures the spirit of the local community.”

In the late afternoon, the volunteers stopped for a snack, a cup of tea and to chat about their find, with Mr Close congratulating them on finding “the clearest evidence yet of palace construction”.

“Some people ask me, ‘Why did you get involved in something like this?’ ” he said. “Look, one day, when everyone is gone from this world, you can say you helped found a Tudor palace.”

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