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Cool Stuff

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It’s Sunday afternoon. I’ll take a minute away from thinking about the doom of the world to point out something that is just damned cool.

For generations, residents of Collyweston — a village in central England snuggled up against the River Welland — passed down stories of a grand Tudor palace, of royal processions through the valley below, of the mother of a king who had called it home.

Over hundreds of years, the stories persisted, even as memory of the palace’s whereabouts faded. But the lore suddenly came to life when a handful of amateur historians unearthed portions of the long-lost palace, buried under a few feet of soil. Historians from the University of York have verified their findings.

“We are a small village with a small group of enthusiasts, and what we’ve basically achieved here is nothing short of a miracle,” said Chris Close, 49, the chairman of the Collyweston Historical and Preservation Society. “You know, it’s not every day you get to dig up a part of your country’s past.”

Mr. Close, soft-spoken and warm with a dimpled smile, was raised in Collyweston, with family roots that go back 400 years here. He remembers hearing stories of the palace as a young boy. It belonged to Lady Margaret Beaufort, who played a major role in the Wars of the Roses, a series of civil wars for the English throne. She acquired it in 1487, two years after her son was crowned king as Henry VII. He, his son Henry VIII, and Elizabeth I all walked the palace halls.

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Last May, they found the first evidence of the palace walls: portions of the clearly defined base of a thick wall and a foundation that experts later verified.

The goal is to eventually find enough artifacts to analyze and date. The group hopes to create a digital model of the palace to be displayed in a tiny museum that Ms. Johnson curates in the nave of the village church.

While finds from this era are not particularly unusual in Britain, historians have hailed the discovery because of the significant role the palace played in its time — and because it was found by an amateur group.

Prof. Kate Giles, a historian at the University of York, pointed out that Britain has a wealth of local history societies, but that in the case of Collyweston, “the fact that it has a Tudor palace on the doorstep makes its work particularly interesting and exciting.”

This is just a great community project that shows the many ways people can engage with the past and do the practice of history. Of course people will always have an attraction to archaeology–actually finding stuff and holding it in your hand has a coolness that the archives will never have except to real nerds like me. But that appeal can drive some really great stuff and this is a cool example of it.

The picture above is a portrait of Margaret Beaufort.

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