Archaeologists working to prepare for HS2 have begun unlocking almost 900 years of history.

The group of enthusiasts recently visited St Mary’s Church in Stoke Mandeville which was built in 1080AD, shortly after the Norman conquest that transformed Saxon England.

The construction of a new church closer to the centre of the village in the 1880s saw the building abandoned and falling into disrepair.

The church in Stoke Mandeville has been dug up

The church in Stoke Mandeville has been dug up

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According to local accounts, a child was killed by falling masonry in the 1930s, and by 1966, the building was considered so dangerous that the Royal Engineers were drafted in to demolish it.

Over the next 50 years, the rubble pile left became overgrown with vegetation, blending into the surrounding greenery, meaning newcomers to the area may have been unaware of the existence of the church building there previously.

Prior to this, the church was renovated in the 13th, 14th and 17th centuries.

Helen Wass, Head of Heritage for HS2 Ltd said: “HS2’s unparalleled archaeological programme is well underway and the start of works at St Mary’s offers an exceptional opportunity for archaeologists to uncover and shine a light on what life was like for the community of Stoke Mandeville over such a timespan.

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The church was built in the 1000s

The church was built in the 1000s

“All artefacts and human remains uncovered will be treated with dignity, care and respect and our discoveries will be shared with the community through open days and expert lectures.

“HS2’s archaeology programme seeks to engage with all communities both local and nationally to share the information and knowledge gained as well as leaving a lasting archival and skills legacy.”

The HS2 scheme is providing a rare opportunity to excavate and understand the history of the church, as well as understand how its use and meaning has changed over time and what it meant to the community of Stoke Mandeville.

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Dr. Rachel Wood, Project Archaeologist for Fusion JV, said: “The excavation of the medieval church at St Mary’s will offer real insight into what life was like in Stoke Mandeville for over nine centuries.

“Those buried there will be remembered once again and the lives they lived over 900 years understood.

Dr. Rachel Wood, Project Archaeologist for Fusion JV

Dr. Rachel Wood, Project Archaeologist for Fusion JV

“The best way to honour the dead is to understand their stories and how they lived their lives.

“Ultimately, this is what the works at the site of Old St Mary’s church will do, providing a lasting legacy to the present community of Stoke Mandeville.”

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