Petworth dig to uncover King Henry’s history

An excavation to uncover a house used by King Henry VIII in Petworth is hoped to unearth some hidden mysteries this month.

Sunday, 13th July 2014, 2:00 pm
JPEt Petworth HousePetworth House JPET Jun14 supplied by Discover Petworth SUS-140424-165327003

From July 12 to 20, a specialist excavation team at National Trust property, Petworth House, will be exploring the historic Parkland in search of Henry VIII’s reputed Banqueting House.

For the second year running the summer ‘Big Dig’ - part of the wider national Festival of Archaeology - will be led by West Sussex and South Downs archaeologist, Tom Dommett, and will take place in Petworth Park, just a short walk from the magnificent mansion house.

“This is an incredibly exciting opportunity to find out more about a period of the Park’s past which is little understood.

“We are delighted to invite visitors to join us as we literally unearth the history of the Park,” said Tom.

Visitors to the park will meet with archaeologists, tour the site, handle finds and travel back in time with living history specialists, demonstrating the crafts and lifestyles of the period.

For younger explorers, the Archaeology Trail will literally walk through the history of the park, while those that visit the main house can discover more about the 2013 excavations in the exhibition room.

Petworth began its ties with Henry VIII when the park was gifted to him in 1535 by Henry Percy, 6th Earl of Northumberland.

The monarch immediately set about expanding and enhancing the Park, possibly building a Banqueting House to entertain his royal guests.

The site of this building has so far eluded archaeologists. However, in 2013 a small evaluation trench on the hill northwest of the house uncovered stone walls, foundations and brick terraces.

This breakthrough, along with finds of Tudor pottery, foreign imports from across the continent and high status items such as a bronze cavalry spur is very encouraging.

Tom continued: “With help from a dedicated team of archaeology volunteers, we will be returning to this area to excavate further and find out if this is indeed the site of Henry VIII’s Banqueting House, or something even more deeply rooted in history.”

For many years there has been speculation that a defensive structure was built at Petworth after the Norman invasion of 1066.

There are scattered clues alluding to this, such as a mysterious tower, shown on a map of 1610.

The Elizabethan accounts for the park also record a ‘Keeper of the House’ as well as a ‘Constable of the Castle’.