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Medieval bishop's palace unearthed in England

Archaeologist James Brigers takes a photo at the site of the bishop's palace. The remains of a medieval fireplace can be seen at the pointed end of the ranging pole and an ancient wall can be seen on the right of the photo. The finds also included a cobbled floor that was a later addition to the palace.
Archaeologist James Brigers takes a photo at the site of the bishop's palace. The remains of a medieval fireplace can be seen at the pointed end of the ranging pole and an ancient wall can be seen on the right of the photo. The finds also included a cobbled floor that was a later addition to the palace. (Image credit: South West Heritage Trust)

In a small town in southwestern England, a construction crew hired to build a run-of-the-mill bungalow unexpectedly discovered a medieval bishop's palace.

The crew uncovered "substantial" medieval wall foundations, floor deposits and a fireplace in the town of Wiveliscombe, said a spokesperson for the South West Heritage Trust, a charity that works on preservation and management of English heritage sites. (The site is being monitored by archaeologists from the South West Heritage Trust.) 

The ruins are thought to be part of a bishop's palace that dates back to the 13th century, according to the Somerset County Gazette. Multiple bishops of Bath and Wells carried out building works at the site, including Bishop Drokensford (bishop from 1309 to 1329) and Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury (bishop from 1329 to 1363), according to the spokesperson. But the palace was likely first constructed shortly after 1256, according to Smithsonian Magazine

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Construction workers uncovered the foundations in a small plot of land owned by a retired bank official, Charles Pole. Pole, who is 81 years old, was building a bungalow for himself in the garden of his house that he was planning to sell, according to the County Gazette.

"It came as a big surprise," Pole told the County Gazette. "It was exciting to hear the site contains something of real significance," although the investigation will likely cost him around $20,900 (15,000 pounds) and will delay the construction of his bungalow, he said.

Local archaeologists knew the medieval palace was located somewhere in the area, in part because a 14th-century gateway to the palace complex is still standing today, according to Smithsonian Magazine. But until this find, no one knew where the rest of the ruins were hidden.

"The gateway is still there; what we didn't know is where the buildings would have been in relation to that gateway," Bob Croft, a county archaeologist with the South West Heritage Trust, told BBC News. "They've often been thought of as being much further to the east, where we knew there was a big barn and a big open space, but this is the first time we've actually got stone foundations discovered."

The newly discovered remains represent two phases of development on the site, the spokesperson told Live Science in an email. Records show that Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury (1329-1363) also carried out major building works in Wiveliscombe, and these are also likely present at the newly discovered site, according to the spokesperson.

The palace remains, which also include pottery from the 12th century and a medieval fireplace, are thought to be part of a hallway and kitchen block. The landowner, archaeologists, builder and architect of the bungalow "are working to protect and record the site," the spokesperson said. 

Originally published on Live Science.