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HS2 – what to expect: The biggest dig for ancient treasures and prehistoric beasts in UK history

Mike Farley, vice president of Bucks Archaeological Society at Grim's Ditch near Wendover

Mike Farley, vice president of Bucks Archaeological Society at Grim's Ditch near Wendover

 

Hundreds of ancient relics could be unearthed during HS2’s construction in what will be the biggest archaeological dig the Vale –and indeed Britain – has ever seen.

Dotted along the line are several spots where treasures from the past are believed to lie beneath the ground.

These include a Roman town in Fleet Marston, medieval villages near Aylesbury and Quainton and a mysterious Iron Age settlement near Wendover.

There’s even the chance that bones belonging to prehistoric beasts could be discovered – fragments from mammoth, woolly rhinoceros, hippopotamus, bear and hyena have already been found near Hartwell.

Government agency HS2 Ltd has promised to carry out digs at historic sites prior to construction – something which excites vice-president of Bucks Archaeological Society Mike Farley.

He said: “It is a good opportunity. On the one hand we don’t want it but when and if it does happen there will be this opportunity for the public to learn about their past.

“People think Stonehenge and they don’t think Aylesbury Vale – but they should, it is a fascinating place.”

One of the most interesting sites ripe for exploration is the former Roman town which lies beneath Fleet Marston.

Mr Farley said: “We think it was probably more important than Aylesbury for a time.

“One of the things found there years ago was a lead coffin and when you get that kind of find you’re not dealing with a rural farmstead but something more significant.”

Then there is the mysterious Grim’s Ditch near The Lee, part of a stretch of ancient earthworks that stretch right across the Chilterns.

“Nobody is 100% sure why they were constructed and very little work has been done on it but we do know they were built some time in the Iron Age. Because it stretches over several miles it would have constructed by a group that had some power.”

Mr Farley expects huge public interest in the digs.

“In the past when we have had open days for archaeological field work we have had a lot of people turn up to have a look.”

HS2 spokesman Ben Ruse said: “We’re very excited that as HS2 is the largest infrastructure project in the UK it will also be the biggest archaeological dig Britain has ever seen.

“This is an unmissable opportunity to discover what treasures lie in wait underneath the earth. We have a real chance to advance our understanding of our ancestors in this area and the land they inhabited.

“At Ebbsfleet on HS1, we discovered a prehistoric mammoth and a hugely significant bronze age artefacts have been unearthed along the route.

“As the investigation progresses we want to share the discoveries we make with local people, schools and community groups and encourage everyone to get excited about local archaeology with national and international importance.”

He added: “We know it is important for people to have their history exhibited locally and we are aware that the (county) museum is the standard store for archaeological archives from the county.”

However, he warned that given the quantity of material expected, it may not be possible for all of it to be housed locally – when the time comes they will work with the museum, English Heritage and Bucks County Council to find suitable space.

ARCHAELOGICAL REMAINS ALONG THE HS2 ROUTE

Stoke Mandeville:

1) Remains of former St Mary’s church and burial ground, mill and settlement at Stoke House Farm, off Risborough Road. May have its origins as an important Saxon ecclesiastical manor specialising in the milling of the Bishopric of Dorchester’s grain tithings from the Aylesbury Hundreds.

2) Remains associated with a Romano-British site in Risborough Road.

Aylesbury and Hartwell:

1) Late pre-historic/ Romano-British/ Saxon archaelogical remains between Walton Court and Bishopstone. A Stone Age axe has been found in this area.

2) Late Iron Age/ Romano-British settlement in Locke’s Pit, off Oxford Road just outside Fairford Leys. Prehistoric animals such as mammoths and hippos already been found here.

3) Former medieval village at Hartwell with post-medieval brickworks. Lies primarily to the north of the stream that rises at Lower Hartwell Farm

and within the area occupied by Aylesbury Park Golf Course.

4) Scatters of Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman and medieval artefacts in area near Stoke Mandeville Hospital.

Fleet Marston:

1) Site of a probable Romano-British small town at Akeman Street (what is now Bicester Road). Numerous finds including Roman coins, pottery and lead sarcophagus.

2) Two curvilinear enclosures potentially late prehistoric or Roman south of the village.

Wendover Area:

1) High potential for remains from pre-historic and later eras as well as paleo-environmental remains at Grim’s Ditch in Hunt’s Green, near The Lee. Copper and silver coins, a lead token, a knife handle and a buckle from Roman era also found.

2) Musket balls, pottery, coins, mounts and buckles of all periods found at land near Wellwick Farm, south of Wendover. Also possible site of former Romano-British villa and an ancient burial site also found there.

3) Multi-period (Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman, medieval and post-medieval), metal artefacts found on fields of Wendover Dean Farm and Manor Farm.

4) Possible site of a medieval chantry chapel and hospital of St John the Baptist on land between Bacombe Lane and Ellesborough Road. The chapel and hospital was dissolved in 1540s and after a long period of disuse pulled down.

Quainton:

1) Deserted medieval village at Doddershall. Potential for ecclesiastical remains.

Calvert:

1) The remains of the former Calvert Station, opened in 1898

and closed in 1964, located west of the village.

And the historic buildings which would be turned to rubble include:

1) Station House, Calvert, dates back to late Victorian era (circa 1890s).

2) Shepherd’s Furze Farmhouse (Grade II) dates back to 1770.

3) Glebe House (Grade II) near Sedrup dates back to 1840s.

4) The Lodge, Doddershall, near Quainton, dates back to 1899.

5) Numbers 30-40 Ellesborough Road, Wendover. Terraced and detached properties date back to 1840-1850s.

FURTHER READING

Detailed archaeological reports from HS2 Ltd broken down by area

HS2 Ltd local area reports on the line’s impact during construction and operation, including maps and photomontages

 

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