Anglo-Saxon remains discovered at Malmesbury’s Old Bell Hotel

Burials dating back more than 1,000 years have been unearthed by our team, while working in the garden of The Old Bell Hotel in Malmesbury, Wiltshire. These Anglo-Saxon remains, which include 24 skeletons as well as material relating to a number of other individuals, date to between 670 and 940 AD, possibly providing significant physical evidence of the early monastic community associated with Malmesbury Abbey.

Careful excavation of Anglo-Saxon remains
Careful excavation of Anglo-Saxon remains at The Old Bell

The discovery was made last year, during a routine machine-watching brief, implemented as part of planning conditions for new building work at the hotel. The Anglo-Saxon remains of men, women, and children were found in the hotel’s grounds, which lie adjacent to Malmesbury Abbey. These discoveries are particularly significant as they relate to the earliest days of the abbey, initially established as a monastery.

A young volunteer holds out her test pit find of a small sherd of pottery
A young volunteer with her test-pit find

Tony McAleavy, historian and local resident, has expressed that the findings transform our understanding of the birth of Malmesbury Abbey in the 7th and 8th centuries, emphasising that the burials shed new light on the way Malmesbury Abbey functioned during its golden age, a period when it was one of the leading centres of scholarship in western Europe.

Paolo Guarino, Assistant Publications Manager and Malmesbury resident, highlighted the importance of the find, noting, “We knew from historical sources that the monastery was founded in that period, but we never had solid evidence before this excavation. The discovery includes remains from the Middle Saxon period, marking the first confirmed evidence of 7th to 9th century activity in Malmesbury.”

We returned to The Old Bell as part of the Big Athelstan Dig, a community archaeology event celebrating the 1100th anniversary of Athelstan’s crowning as the first King of all England. Our team supported volunteers with the excavation of 15 test-pits around the town, revealing Malmesbury’s rich historical tapestry.

The Old Bell Hotel, a building dating back to 1220, played a pivotal role in this archaeological revelation. Owners Kim and Whit Hanks expressed their excitement and commitment to preserving local history – “We are honoured to act as stewards of local history, a responsibility we take very seriously. This exciting discovery intertwines history with the present, providing a rare insight into the lives of Middle Saxon period Malmesbury residents.”

Anglo-Saxon remains under excavation
Anglo-Saxon remains under excavation

This extraordinary find not only provides valuable insights into the early monastic community but also enriches our understanding of Malmesbury’s historical significance. The discovery coincides with the town’s celebrations of Athelstan 1100, further igniting interest and appreciation for its rich heritage.

Rosanna Price
Engagement Manager

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