A vault full of sand!

Jackie.Hall | November 22, 2011

In 1937, the vault in the middle of the east end of Thetford Priory church was emptied. It once housed the body of the 2nd Howard duke of Norfolk, with a grand tomb above but after the Dissolution the body was moved. When it was rediscovered in the 1930s, it was full of bits of architectural stone and tombs, ‘Carved, Gilded, and painted fragments’, some of which I’ve been able to identify.

Almost no records were made of the tomb itself, however – only one photograph survives, that I know of. It was once possible to gain entry when the priory was open for the payment of a small entrance fee but this has not been the case for many years. If I had access to the vault now, I could make a plan, measure and compare the bricks with those from other tombs and it would also be possible to assess the condition of the structure.

Will Fletcher (English Heritage) and Jackie Hall (project archaeologist) investigating entry to the 1524 vault. The top of the hatch is filled with sandSo, with the aid of English Heritage, Phillip and I went to see if we could get into the vault. There are two old hatch openings through the 1939 reinforced concrete top, now grassed over. Will Fletcher – the Inspector of Ancient Monuments – started to clear the top of one of them. With baited breath, we waited to see the top of the hatch reveal itself… and waited… and waited. Will removed the grass, then sand, then more sand. Gradually the sad truth became apparent. The whole vault had been completely filled with sand, and none of us had found a record of it, leaving me with just the one photograph from the 1930s!

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