The Journey Begins

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Welcome to the Lyminge Pathways to the Past blog.  Thank you for joining us!  The Project will progress over the next two years – or more – and is an exciting combination of activities that will include:

  • Re-excavating the remains of what we believe is a very early Anglo-Saxon church.  These were first uncovered in the 1850s, but were reburied 90 years ago.  This is probably the church where our two saints Ethelburga and Eadburg were both buried;
  • A survey of the standing church, which will give us more insight into how the church building has changed and developed over the last thousand years.  The survey of the whole church site including the area of the dig will support high quality reconstructions and we plan to have 3D visualisations available on-line and through a touchscreen in the church;
  • Building on the information panel being installed by the Lyminge Historical Society on Tayne Field in October 2018, we plan a heritage trail with more panels, literally creating a pathway to explore the past.  The trail will explore St. Ethelburga’s legacy in as much as we probably wouldn’t have a village if it weren’t for the church she founded in the 7th Century;
  • We are planning a programme of activities as a way to involve members of the local community and explore ideas of heritage.  We are particularly keen to discuss ideas involving the arts, and have been considering already the possibility of having an artist in residence and using the church to stage dramatic performances;
  • We are also aiming to improve the actual physical pathways in and around the church, making it easier for those with impaired mobility to access the churchyard, extending the existing path network to include the war memorial and creating new step-free access into the church itself.   This is all about improving access to the church, which has been at the heart of our community here in Lyminge for almost 1400 years.

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Work has been in hand for much of 2018 already.  We reported to the Annual Parochial Church Meeting in April and the Annual Parish Meeting early in May.  We held a public consultation meeting on 19 May – the very day of the Royal Wedding!  We were delighted that so many people came to contribute their valuable thoughts and ideas.  We had quite a brainstorming session!

Dr Gabor Thomas, Associate Professor in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Reading is on board to direct the archaeological excavation, and he joined us at the public meeting to discuss our plans and explain why the dig is worth carrying out.  Here is the slide presentation that he and Rob Baldwin talked through:

Churchyard project Open meeting 19 May 18

Over the past decade Gabor and his team, working with many keen local residents, have undertaken extensive archaeological excavations which have unearthed a complex of large feasting halls on Tayne Field, dating from the sixth and seventh centuries AD.  The size and splendour of the finds suggest that this was the centre of the royal estate that is known from historical records.  This was probably also the site where St Ethelburga lived when she came to Lyminge sometime in or after AD 633.  Excavations to the south and west of the church have found the remains of settlement and industrial areas associated with the Anglo-Saxon monastery which thrived in the eighth and ninth centuries AD,and which too is known from the historical record.

It is now proposed to re-excavate the area immediately to the south of the existing church which was first dug during the 1850s by Canon Robert Jenkins, the Rector of Lyminge at the time.  These excavations revealed a masonry structure that partly underlay the south wall of the existing church, which itself dates to around the time of the Norman Conquest.  It therefore must be older than that.  From surviving descriptions, drawings and photographs, this structure was almost certainly a very early church.  Dr Thomas and his team undertook a geophysical survey of the site in 2013 and confirmed details of its size and shape.  The evidence indicates that it shares close affinities with the small number of other churches associated with the earliest centres of Christianity in Kent, including St Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury.  In the words of John Blair, Professor of Medieval History and Archaeology at Oxford, who has written in support of our project, these remains are among the most important early Anglo-Saxon church remains ever excavated in southern England”.

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The engraving above shows the remains found by Cannon Jenkins.  His work was good for its time, but defective by modern standards, and this has left numerous questions unanswered.  We are now seeking to re-excavate the remains to see if we can answer the outstanding questions.  This will be a dig of major international importance and will attract substantial publicity.

The last phase of excavations in Lyminge attracted great attention and featured for example in Digging for Britain, a series presented by Professor Alice Roberts on the BBC.  We would expect the latest work to attract equal or greater publicity.

A project with a larger scope

The archaeology, however, is really only the ‘headliner’ in a project with a much larger scope.

Reinstating the path to the south door

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The main path to the church will have to be dug up to enable the excavations to take place.  This creates the opportunity to improve all the paths in the churchyard, replacing the current tarmac in a material that provides better drainage and is more resistant to icing.  At the same time we can install continuous handrails to provide more support for those who need it along the route.

Alternative access to thew churchyard and step-free access to the church

While the access to the south door is ‘out of bounds’ during the archaeological excavation, an alternative access to the church will need to be created.  We intend to use this opportunity to enhance the alternative route into the churchyard from the north, making the path suitable for use by mobility scooters, prams and pushchairs, and laying a new path to the north door of the church to provide a permanent alternative access with parking under cover.  Working with Kent County Council, we are planning to improve the footpath along the north boundary to the churchyard, re-engineering the bank to reduce the gradient so that it is much easier to get up to the churchyard.

Survey of the standing church building

When you actually cast your eyes around the interior of the church all sorts of features are visible: blocked windows, various rock types, inclusion of Roman bricks and so on.  A full stone-by-stone survey of the building stones will be undertaken, and this will be augmented by the expert on building stone in Kent who has written the definitive guide for Historic England and who has offered her services free to the project.  The survey that will accompany this review will allow us to understand better the phases of building and create 3D reconstructions of the entire church at different phases over its entire history of close on 1,400 years.

Recording and publication of what is found

The planned archaeological excavation will generate a mass of new information that will augment the vast amount of information gathered from the previous work over the past decade.  Our project is aimed at publishing what we find and adding to this rich body of data that sheds so much light on a period of history that is usually seen as poorly understood and often dismissed simply as the Dark Ages.

A permanent legacy for the community

An integral part of our project is to create a permanent legacy for local residents and visitors alike.  We aim to create materials that communicate the heritage of the village and surrounding area, using display panels, hard copy leaflets and guides, and on-line media.  We also have plans for a range of community-based activities that will draw inspiration from the dig and the history that we will be exploring.  We are already in discussion with a local artist who could be given a residency to develop works as part of the project and work with local people.  We want to make this project about more than just an archaeological dig, and allow people to explore and engage with their heritage in as many ways as possible.

The creation of a walking route from Folkestone to Minster in Thanet via Lyminge

This walking route will connect the very early Anglo Saxon communities which would have been familiar to Ethelburga and links in with the North Downs way and the pilgrimage routes to Canterbury.  St Eanswythe’s, Folkestone and Minster Abbey are both believed to hold relics relating to their original patron saints, so this route can be a pilgrimage, whichever way you go.  The walk will provide an opportunity to explore the rich natural and historical environment, following a route that takes you north south across the ridge of the North Downs, for much of the way following the line of the Nailbourne from its source at Lyminge to where it flows into the Great Stour and thence to the sea.  Pilgrimage is not just about following the great routes like the Camino to Santiago.  This route will allow you to make your own mini-pilgrimage amongst the delightful countryside of East Kent.

So, what stage are we at now?

Right at the moment, the project is still in its infancy.  A request for permission to undertake the work in the churchyard has been submitted to the Diocesan Advisory Committee (DAC).  If the DAC is supportive, a request to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for grant funding will be prepared.  We see the HLF as the main, but not the only, source of project funding.  Nevertheless, an HLF grant is key to allowing the project to go ahead.

Communication with various specialists who could be involved in the project is already in hand and this is enabling us to cost the various aspects of the work with the aim of submitting a grant application bid to the HLF late in 2018.

The HLF is very keen on match-funding.  That can take two forms: grants from other bodies and volunteer time, which can be valued according to a scale of charges provided by the HLF.  The smaller the proportion of the total project cost that the HLF has to fund, the more likelihood we have of securing a grant.  Volunteer input (for instance from the building stones expert, or local people acting as diggers) can be costed and will help towards this.  But we are very keen to obtain financial support from as many other sources as possible and we are currently contacting a number of bodies with that in mind.

Coming soon….. our new logo!

 

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

 

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