A friend and I had fun yesterday visiting an archaeological dig in the church yard of St. Andrew’s Church, here in Laverstock. The dig is being lead by Alex Langlands, archaeologist and co-star of the acclaimed BBC show Victorian Farm, and a small team of fellow archaeologists, students, and local volunteers is working on the site.
The dig is going on at the western back end of the yard, closest to the Bourne River. We walked past huge, ancient yews and flowing grasses to reach the several trenches being dug.
One of the volunteers explained that the purpose of the dig is to learn more about the churches that have been on the site. It is thought that there have been at least 3, and maybe 4, churches here. The current St. Andrew’s dates from 1858, built by the Victorians using some of the materials from the previous churches.
The first church on the site, and the location of the current dig, might go back to Saxon times. It is known for certain, however, that a Norman church was built on the site, and this church predated even Salisbury Cathedral. One of the doorways in the current church has an arch from the Norman church. That Norman church was unfortunately destroyed by fire in 1410, and a second (or third?) church was then built on the site. That church, in turn, was reported to have become derelict, and the Victorians knocked it down and built the current church on the current site in the front of the church yard. The dig is trying to establish the exact location of and more information about the prior buildings.
There have been high-profile television shows about recent archaeological digs in the vicinity. Stonehenge, Durrington Walls, Salisbury Cathedral and Silbury Hill, all in Wiltshire, have been the subject of digs and TV documentaries. This, however, was the first dig I had seen in person, and it was fascinating. Just as we were there Alex pointed out some broken pieces of red tile, which looked like pieces of a flower pot, in the dirt about a foot underground. He explained that these would have been pieces of the roof, and they would have fallen to both the north and south of the west-facing original church. This was one small step in helping to establish the location of the original walls and was, to me, another example of the amazing work archaeologists can do to help us understand the past.
The site of the dig is hemmed in with ancient grave stones, and it is thought that one of the reasons the old church was destroyed and the new one built on the current site is that the congregation needed a larger building, and the old site was too crowded with graves for the church to be expanded.
I always think there is a very exceptional feeling about a church yard that is believed to date back to Saxon times, approximately 1200 years ago. The sites may even be more ancient than that because a number of the Saxon churches were built on places considered sacred by the native Britons for centuries before the Saxons. Many of these, like St. Andrew’s, are located by rivers or other natural features of exceptional beauty, and I find that they have a special feeling of peace and quiet.
One of the volunteers told me that anyone interested in learning more about this special site is welcome to attend an “open house” at the dig on this coming Saturday, 11 July.