Unearthing the past in Ashridge

PUBLISHED: 17:39 22 September 2011 | UPDATED: 20:01 20 February 2013

Brendon Sparks from Berkhamsted Archaeological Society

Brendon Sparks from Berkhamsted Archaeological Society

An archaeological dig at Ashridge proved fruitful with the remnants of Tudor walls being revealed. Berkhamsted Archaeological Society shares its findings

ARCHAEOLOGICAL excavations have been taking place at Ashridge Business School, to determine the layout of the monastic and Tudor buildings which previously stood on the site. It was once a royal residence that housed Princesses Elizabeth and Mary, before they became monarchs, and King Edward VI.

The dig was carried out by Berkhamsted Archaeological Society and had been sanctioned by English Heritage.

During two weeks of excavations they unearthed evidence of the outer wall of the monastic site which, after the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII, became Crown property and is known to have housed Henrys children, Mary, Edward and Elizabeth.

Edward was at Ashridge for a short while, but Elizabeth was there intermittently for 14 years before being arrested and taken to the Tower of London. Ashridge was given to Elizabeth by Edward under the terms of Henry VIIIs will and she kept it throughout her reign although she never returned after her arrest and accession to the throne.

Built in the late 13th century, the monastery was demolished and replaced in the early 19th century with the current Gothic revival house designed by James Wyatt.

Mick Thompson, Ashridge Gardens Manager, says, Our aim is to try and gain as full and accurate a picture as possible of the layout of the old site from what remains under the lawns at Ashridge. This is the latest in a programme of surveys and digs to put the current house and garden in the context of the historic landscape.

The dig revealed brick walls that matched the perimeter line of the old house on Greys Ashridge Estate Map of 1762. The walls appear to be built of Tudor brick that is thought to have been a new perimeter wall built on or adjacent to the original medieval walls during Princess Elizabeths time. This would have been for increased security for a royal residence.

They also found evidence of a ditch on the external side of the wall which would have acted as an added security measure. Finds from the two trenches that were dug included a medieval encaustic tile, bricks, animal bones, cow horn, glass, clay pipes and shards of pottery and glass.

Berkhamsted Archaeological Society will now spend several months studying the data and finds from this survey and dig before preparing a report on their findings for Ashridge Business School and English Heritage.

Mick adds, From the results of this exploratory dig we will be able to build up a picture of the layout of the perimeter of the monastic and Tudor buildings. This could lead to a larger scale excavation of parts of the garden in years to come.

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