Uncovering Wisbech Castle's "lost" Bishop's Palace

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Archaeologists are on the brink of solving a mystery buried deep under centuries-old dungeons in Wisbech.

Archaeologists are on the brink of solving a mystery buried deep under centuries-old dungeons in Wisbech.For the first time, a crack team of historical detectives is set to excavate within the vaults at historic Wisbech Castle to look for any surviving evidence of the "lost" Bishop's Palace.

The building – which dates back to the 15th century – was used as a prison for political and religious prisoners, but over the ages,its location has become an enigma that has eluded discovery.

But all that could change in September, when experts move onto the site to uncover what lies beneath the tunnel-like passageways and gardens.

They hope to unearth original floors and finds which may point to the use of vaults, such as storage jars or bottles.

Oxford Archaeology (East) is awaiting listed building consent, but initial investigations reveal there may be lots to get excited about.

Site manager for Cambridgeshire County Council Geoff Wilkinson said: "We know the Bishop's Palace was there, but we have no idea where or what it looked like.

"It's a complete mystery.

"Archaeologists have already been on site and made preliminary investigations, including the vaults.

"It is early days yet, but there might be some brick works and building work that dates to the time of the Bishop's Palace.

"They have also done a geophysical survey of the garden, a bit like they do in Time Team.

"They run over the soil with equipment to determine what's underground.

"It already looks as if there are three walls that form three sides of a square right in the middle of the lawn.

"It could be a collection of buildings that could be part of the Bishop's Palace.

"It's getting quite exciting. It's like putting together a massive jigsaw."

A 50,000 lottery grant was awarded to Wisbech Castle to fund the dig and unearth the Bishop's Palace, which was built by Bishop Morton of Ely in 1478.

Organisers have been amazed by the response after a call for volunteers, with 17 schools from the area signed up, as well as adult helpers.

They will help wash, record and box findings, and there will be webcams so people can watch all the progress.

Places have now been filled.

Archaeological project officer Taleyna Fletcher said the digs might even throw up gems from other periods.

She said: "The great thing is that before you put the digger into the ground, you have no idea what you will come across.

"We could find evidence of any buildings, from Saxon and Norman times.

"Working at the castle will be a really good opportunity to look for something that's never been found before.

"Wisbech is such a beautiful place but there is not a lot of regeneration there. This will help bring the community together."

The dig takes place from September 16 to 29.

Related links:

The Castle - The Wisbech Society website - http://www.wisbech-society.co.uk/html/wisbech25.htm