I have to confess there was only one actual member of Time Team involved in the archaeological dig in the ruined church in our little village of Uphill. However, the majority of the visitors and volunteers who came along were huge fans of the much missed programme, and had mostly come along to see Phil Harding and his legendary hat… or maybe it was Phil Harding’s hat and the legendary Phil Harding!
I have been volunteering there for the last three days, and have been so excited that I actually have been allowed to wield a trowel and do some excavating! The old church was built just after the Norman Conquest, and having weathered many storms eventually was replaced by a new church in the village; the old church is up a very steep hill and it a place of worship on the flat was more convenient for the villagers. The old church lost its roof, whether through a fire caused by a lightning strike, or storm damage, no-one really knows. The nave is now without a roof at all which was taken down some time in the middle 1800’s.
The actual dig took place within this roofless nave, and three test pits were opened up; during the first couple of days one by a blocked doorway was extensively excavated down to the bedrock, and showed different layers of the old church floor, a lot of broken roof slates, and a mysterious cut away and lots of sand. Since we are so close to the beach the sand is understandable, we get enough blown into our house and we have a roof on. However, because of a burnt area, there was a suggestion that maybe the church bell had been cast actually inside the church in one of its periods of being rebuilt, and it was a bell pit. There also seemed another cut away area which might have been a grave.
The second marked out area by the entrance was not dug, but the third pit was dug, and this was the one I helped work in… I was so excited! This was probably the most interesting for an amateur like me because it taught me so much. The top layer of sandy soil and bits of stone, old slate, burned slate, mortar and plaster gave way to just a heap of rubble. It seems that at one point in the past, possibly when the church was being reroofed, or the final roof being taken down, everything had been dug out – including burials within the church which were then reburied in the ‘new’ church in the village. As I was digging away in my little corner, taking out all the old stones and rubble, it seemed to me there was a bit of a void beneath where I was working,as sand kept trickling through between the stones and disappearing. I did point this out to the person supervising us, but it was though just to be because it was a heap of old stuff.The tidied up pit yesterday
Today however, great excitement, the shape of a grave appeared, old bits of decayed wood, the heads of coffin nails, and a small scrap of a brass plate were found…and then some actual bones.
It seems as if when the old burials were moved, odd bits and pieces and bone got left behind. These weren’t excavated; the point of the dig was to find out more about the history of the church, not to disinter any people that we found. The dig finished today, there will be a talk and display tomorrow… but what an interesting time I’ve had, and how much I have learned!
The tidied up pit having one last inspection today