News in brief: medieval bishop’s palace found in Essex, and new experimental archaeology project launched

Some of the latest stories from the realm of UK archaeology.

Performing the past

A new three-year project at Hengistbury Head in Dorset, which has been occupied for more than 12,000 years, is inviting people to engage with local archaeology through practical activities.

The project, Performing the Past, is a collaboration betweeen Hayden Scott-Pratt, a University of Bournemouth PhD student, and Hengistbury Head Visitor Centre, with the team using experimental archaeology to replicate ancient crafting methods in order to educate modern-day people about the area’s heritage.

As Hayden explained: ‘This project is an amazing opportunity to delve into the past and educate people about our heritage in a fun and tangible way. We want the local people to be the legacy of this project and ambassadors for the brilliant archaeology of Hengistbury Head.’ The university project is being funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. For more information, see

Unearthing a palace

Members of the Burnham arm of the charity u3a – the University of the Third Age (a national learning organisation where people can ‘learn for the joy of it, make new friends, and have fun’) – have discovered the remains of a medieval bishops’ palace at Southminster Hall in Essex.

‘No one had any idea that it even existed,’ said Sue Spiers, who spotted an unusual crop mark in the grounds of the Victorian mansion using Google Maps. The u3a group then went on to uncover stone foundations more than a metre wide. Realising that these must have belonged to a high-status building, the team sought support from Archaeology South-East and received training on how to proceed.

The remains have now been identified as the chamber block of a medieval palace built for the Bishop of London between the 11th and 13th centuries. ‘The chief archaeologist at Essex County Council was absolutely thrilled. She is actually redrawing the map of historic sites,’ Sue said.

Time capsule

A 19th-century cobalt mine containing a number of near-pristine artefacts, including workers’ equipment and personal objects, has been discovered at Alderley Edge in Cheshire.

The mine, believed to have been abandoned c.1810, is one of several in the area, all of which are now owned by the National Trust. Since the 1970s, however, the Trust has leased the mines to the Derbyshire Caving Club, whose members maintain access to them while searching for long-lost areas of mining.

Leather shoes, clay pipes, a metal button, and an enigmatic clay bowl are among the items that the club found in the newly discovered mine last autumn. Inscriptions written in candle soot were also identified, alongside discarded pieces of mine machinery.