The tale of how an amateur archaeologist’s hunch led him to uncover a lost medieval town and spend £32,000 of his own money to buy the land, would stand to be the archaeological discovery of any year. On the border between England and Wales, the site of the medieval town of Trellech reveals much about a tumultuous period of history – and how the town came to be lost.
The story begins in 2004, when archaeology graduate Stuart Wilson began his search for this lost medieval town in Monmouthshire, south-east Wales, near where now only a small village bears the name. In the face of scepticism from academic archaeologists, Wilson’s years of work have been vindicated with the discovery of a moated manor house, a round stone tower, ancillary buildings, and a wealth of smaller finds including pottery from the 1200s.
What makes the lost city of Trellech so important is its rarity and the quality of its preservation. Most large medieval settlements in England and Wales are still towns and cities to this day. This means archaeological investigations of medieval London or York for example are difficult and expensive, and can only occur piecemeal as urban redevelopment allows excavation of small areas. If Trellech turns out to be an extensive town, it will be a unique and important site. As archaeology is key to understanding the lives of everyday people who are ignored by the histories of the great and the good, sites like Trellech are the only way we gain these insights.
It may seem surprising that an entire medieval town could become lost from the historical record for more than 500 years, but in fact this is more common than you might think. Medieval Britain was characterised by poor documentary records, particularly outside major centres of political or religious power like London, Edinburgh, York or Canterbury. A settlement could be destroyed, fall into decline, or be abandoned – and if no written records existed or those that did were subsequently lost, it’s quite possible for there to be no account of its existence.