Posted 1 December 2014 by Andrew Gardner
Archaeology buffs listen up: an important dig near Winchester has been granted funding for two more years. A team from the University of Winchester have been excavating the medieval leper hospital at No Man's Land off Alresford Road since 2007 and it featured on Time Team back in 2000.
This year they've been working on the medieval infirmary and investigating a northern corridor leading off it, although in terms of physical finds there's been 'nothing too exciting - just lots of pots,' according to the team leader Dr Simon Roffey. Next spring they plan to focus on the chapel and southern cemetery.
Dr Roffey's modest comment belies the importance of this dig, as the Hospital of St Mary Magdalen is thought to be one of the oldest hospitals in the country. My research got a bit confusing here, because some articles say it was founded around 1180 but others cite carbon dating showing that some burials on the site - many showing signs of leprosy - were made between 960-1030, giving the lie to a long-held theory that hospitals in Britain only dated from after the Norman conquest. Skeletons found there also provided clues to the genetic origins of leprosy in Europe: it's believed the hospital was built as a response to the disease being spread from the Middle East during the Crusades and with the popularity of pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
The hospital was refurbished in the 14th century but then demolished two centuries later during the dissolution of monasteries by Henry VIII. Almshouses were built on the site, which were used as a troop base during the Civil War. They fell into ruin and were demolished in the 1780s and the site was used for a large base in World War I.
Although there's nothing above ground to visit now, somehow the fact that these things are going on beneath us adds to the atmosphere. We have some lovely holiday cottages in the area and whichever side of the Hampshire/Sussex border you choose to stay, you'll be within easy reach of beautiful countryside, the South Downs Way and the Pilgrims' Way for walkers and the historic city of Winchester. Click here to view our cottages across these two counties.