TV's Time Team uncover school's past

BRITAIN'S best known archaeologists have been getting muddy in the grounds of one of Essex's most successful schools.

Elliot Furniss

BRITAIN'S best known archaeologists have been getting muddy in the grounds of one of Essex's most successful schools.

The Time Team, from the Channel 4 show, have been exploring a series of trenches outside New Hall School in Boreham, near Chelmsford, and have been fascinated by their findings.

Led by presenter Tony Robinson, the team have been digging up sites across the UK in the name of archaeology since 1994.

Mr Robinson, who first found fame through his iconic performances as Baldrick in the BBC comedy series Blackadder, said the team were filming a 90 minute special to be broadcast on Easter Sunday examining the grand palaces of Henry VIII.

The famous Tudor monarch once had a vast complex at the New Hall site, now home to one of the country's leading Catholic schools, and the Time Team have been uncovering the remains of the palace's gatehouse, chapel and what are thought to be royal quarters.

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He said: “You find an awful lot of elegant houses tend to have been built where others were before. That's because human nature, being what it is, like a nice location.

“It's been very successful. The chapel was huge - before the time when Henry VIII became leader of the Church of England, there was a time when he was still courting the Pope.

“This wasn't a dainty little side chapel, it was a massive thing. We've also found one of the wings of Henry's palace and what we're trying to establish is whether it's the wing in which he actually lived.”

Students from the school have been helping out the team during the last few days and have been cleaning many of the artefacts that have been plucked from the earth.

Also working in one trench was New Hall School “Old Fish” Nicola Wager, 24, who, since leaving, has gone on to gain a degree in archaeology and a master's in forensic Egyptology from Manchester University.

She said: “When you come here you get used to it and it's just 'school' so you don't get to think about the history of the place.

“When they first started ripping up the tarmac I thought 'oh my god - what are they doing?' But it's great to come back and be involved and work with some very knowledgeable people.”

Historian Tony Tuckwell, who has published an account of the school's past, said it was “immensely exciting” to see the palace unearthed.

He said: “I was with a Year 8 student the other day and we were by the gatehouse and she was absolutely transfixed with the thought that Henry VIII could have actually stood there.

“It's fascinating, listening to people explain what they're seeing, which to me is a lot of rubble.”

The New Hall Estate was sold to Henry VIII in 1517 and he built the Palace of Beaulieu there as a grand hunting lodge and residence, located one day's ride from London and one day's ride from Harwich.

It was later home to his daughter Mary Tudor, who went on to become queen, and was also used by Elizabeth I.

For more information about Time Team, visit The show will shown on Easter Sunday on Channel 4.