Broadcast 29 March 2009
In October 2008 an archaeological evaluation was undertaken by Channel 4’s ‘Time Team’ at the site of the Scheduled Ancient Monument of Blythburgh Priory in Blythburgh, Suffolk (Scheduled Ancient Monument Number SF215), to investigate the remains of the Augustinian Priory. The Priory remains are centred on NGR 645202 275398.
Activity within the area is known from the prehistoric to the Roman period but it was from the Saxon period onwards that the area became more intensively occupied. The Blythburgh area is reported as the site of the battle in AD 654 in which King Anna, the nephew of King Raedwald of the East Angles (who is thought to buried at Sutton Hoo), was killed by King Penda of Mercia. Anna was buried at Blythburgh, either in the church of the Holy Trinity, or in the priory area to the east. His remains became the focus of pilgrimage, and his tomb was still being venerated by pilgrims in the 12th century. It is possible that the church at Blythburgh was one of the Minsters of King Ælfwald, who died in 749. Blythburgh church was granted to the Canons of St. Osyth’s Priory in Essex in 1120 by Henry I and had developed into a successful Augustinian monastic complex by the 13th and 14th centuries. The remains of the Priory are still upstanding.
No intrusive archaeological work has previously been undertaken within the Priory complex, and little is understood of its layout or development, although a number of small evaluations have taken place within the vicinity of the Site, and several scattered finds have been recovered.
The evaluation located at least two inhumation burials which pre-dated the Priory complex; these were radiocarbon dated to AD 670-780 and AD 890-1020 respectively. What may have been the vallum monasteria; the enclosing ditch around the monastic complex, was also revealed. The two early graves had been disturbed by the construction of the nave of the priory church, probably in the 11th or 12th century, and by the extension to the single-celled church by the addition of a crossing-tower and extended chancel. No clear date for this later extension was ascertained, but the recovery of a 14th century brooch from a burial at the eastern end of the extension provides a possible terminus post quem.
The Priory appears to belong to a small number of monastic institutions in which the associated cloister was situated to the north instead of to the south as is more typical.