Blythburgh Priory, Blythburgh, Suffolk
Blythburgh Priory, Blythburgh, Suffolk
2010 – Phase 1 at The Ruins

By January 2010 Tim’s schedule and scope of works for the ruins were firmly taking shape and English Heritage were never far away in guiding the project forward. With the tree works approved on the 19th. January, we booked the cherry picker for our tree man, Paul Jackson – Arboriculturalist; the cherry picker was also going to be used by Tim to photograph the ruins for schedule preparation purposes.

By early March 2010, we had all our consents for the site management, and workshops etc. in place and by June we had tender results in for Phase 1 works for the ruins. We had also engaged Bob Carr, as our site/project archaeologist.

In general terms, the thrust of Phase 1 included clearing away plant debris and localised repointing, rough racking to the upper faces and vulnerable stonework areas, reconstructing the dressed stonework of the SW ‘drum’ column, filling in the open putlog holes, general site clearance and site protection, scaffolding and, of course, valuable recording and interpretation works. These works were carried out through July, and August 2010. Luke Palmer and Toby Haward, members of Nick’s building company were approved to work under the direction of ancient building specialists and their lead mason/foreman, Peter Barnes of R. J. Hogg Ltd. as a CPD exercise.

Using traditional lime mortars limits the months one can work successfully and to ensure these restoration works were protected and had adequate time to carbonate the ruins were neatly wrapped in hessian and tarpaulins before the winter frosts.

               

Phase 1 – findings

Bob Carr’s Archaeological Report and Archive contains some beautifully and carefully recorded photographs, drawings and illustrations of the existent remains. Based on his recordings and researches, which also assesses the findings of the ‘Time Team’ dig, in general terms he concluded that it seemed likely, based of the TT 7th. Century burial dates the site was used ‘for burial at least in the Middle-Saxon period’ which further suggests the nave likely lies on the site of a Saxon Minster.

Bob could clearly identify the two building stages, which separated the older nave, from the 13th. Century ‘crossing’ tower, chancel/‘presbytery to the east’ [extent unknown], north transept [partial survival] and south transept [not identified yet].

The main ‘blind’ south nave wall was a ‘sole survival on the site of this phase’ and clearly a slight puzzle to Bob who dated it as early 12th. or even 11th. Century, due to it’s fabric style. In his assessment, Bob considers the south wall: ‘The presence of Roman tile is rare. The quantity of tile use and the size and pitching of flint is very unusual. These features are not entirely alien to medieval work, but their rarity raises the slight possibility that the wall may be pre-medieval.”

Dating aside, what is very clear is that Bob considers this wall fabric to be of the highest importance for future preservation and the earliest piece of remains on the site.

Part of the Phase 1 works was to remove debris from around the structures, which mainly consisted of loose flints amongst loose earth. This was carried out under the direction of volunteer archaeologist Clarissa Thomas, with assistant labour. This achieved three things: firstly, it alleviated the need for Bob to carry out these backbreaking works; secondly, it removed material away from the important standing remains enabling condition assessment and thirdly, it gave a small insight into how Seymour Lucas saw them, which seemed very much as a backcloth or even folly to his newly planned geometric garden, rather than a valued ‘ruin’. Seymour Lucas was much more interested in the romance of the ruin and whilst it is probable he had a dig around the site, the siting of his Lutyen’s seat, adjacent flint stone planter and his vines adorning the south nave wall, was clearly much more his thing!

By way of keeping dates/timings on record, even though the land to the east of the site fell outside the scheduled site, archaeological conditions were requested to be in place prior to the construction of the workshops, parking and stores. As archaeologists were on site during July and August 2010, the ground works [site strip, foundations, and drains] were carried out at the same time.

On completion of Phase 1, not unlike the end of the ‘Time Team’ dig, there were clearly still a pile of questions to be answered, but at least the ruins were off the ‘at risk’ register and it was time to take stock and consider if there was sufficient reason to consider a Phase 2.