The chance discovery of a building dating to around the time of Alfred the Great has led to a remarkable project in Oxfordshire: the re-creation of the Wessex House, a building thought to be an Anglo Saxon royal residence.
Three years ago a group of researchers from the University of Oxford’s School of Archaeology discovered the remains of a ‘high-status’ house while taking part in a routine dig at the Sylva Wood Centre in Long Wittenham.
The size of the so-called ‘Wessex House’ — 40ft by 20ft — and the deep trenches around it quickly convinced the team that they were looking at something special.
Subsequent analysis of crop marks in aerial photos revealed it was one of at least three large buildings in the area that formed a ‘great hall complex’ of some importance, and was quite possibly a royal residence.
The idea of re-building the palace was picked up by the Sylva Foundation — an environmental charity whose aim is ‘to help forests thrive – for people and for nature‘ — who were given 30 tonnes of wood from the ancient trees on the Blenheim estate.
‘Blenheim is extremely fortunate to have one of the most ancient oak woodlands to survive anywhere in Europe with some of our oldest trees dating back around a thousand years, said Blenheim’s Estates Director, Roy Cox.
‘We have just the right sort of timber, so we’re pleased our trees are literally able to support such an exciting and ambitious project here in Oxfordshire and are very much looking forward to seeing the finished results.’
For those worried about the use of ancient trees for timber, have no fear. These lovely old trees — a mixture of 80 ash, birch, sweet chestnut and oak trees — were due for removal as part of a ‘structured woodland thinning’ which is part of the estate’s ancient woodland conservation efforts.
The frame of the Wessex House has been finished by volunteers working alongside timber frame construction experts and an archaeological woodwork specialist. Next up will be thatching the roof and building the walls from wattle and daub.
Recent work has meant that chambers unseen for 250 years have emerged from the murky underwater depths at Blenheim Palace,