VISITORS to the National Trust’s Petworth House today (Saturday July 19) can follow a specialist excavation team as they explore 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 – is being led by West Sussex and South Downs archaeologist Tom Dommett and is taking place in Petworth Park.
Visitors to the park until tomorrow (Sunday, July 20) can meet archaeologists, tour the site, handle finds and travel back in time with living history specialists, demonstrating period crafts and lifestyles.
For younger explorers, the archaeology trail will literally walk through the history of the park, while those who visit the main house can discover more about last year’s excavations.
“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.
Petworth House began its ties with Henry VIII when the park was gifted to him in 1535 by Henry Percy, sixth 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 never been found.
But last year 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,” said Tom.
“With help from a dedicated team of archaeology volunteers, we are excavating further to find out if this is indeed the site of Henry VIII’s banqueting house, or something even more deeply rooted in history.”
Petworth schoolchildren are also visiting the site to try their hand at digging.