It’s a bit outside London, but there’s a chance to visit a live archaeology site that’s currently excavating a churchyard filled with around 3,000 dead people.

The ruins of St Mary’s church is a short walk from Stoke Mandeville station on the Chiltern railway line, and has to be cleared to make way for the HS2 railway. As with any major project, such as when Crossrail was clearing sites, archaeologists go ahead of the builders and study or conserve what they can find.

The remains of the church dates in part all the way back to the Norman Conquest, but the church fell out of use in the 19th century when another one was built closer to the village.

Computer recreation of the old church (c) HS2

This church has since fallen into ruin but is still historically important, so HS2 archaeologists are studying the church, but also excavating the churchyard so that the occupants can be reburied elsewhere.

The whole area is currently covered in a giant tent, and later this month there will be an open weekend with a chance for the public to go inside and see what’s happening.

The St. Mary’s field museum will open to the public on the weekend of 29th and 30th May, and at regular dates throughout the summer.

Inside the museum, you can ascend the viewing platform for a bird’s eye view of ongoing excavations, as well as displays, films and interactives to explore the history of St. Mary’s church and the archaeological discoveries in the surrounding area.

Tickets for the first open weekend will be released on Monday (17th May) here.

Getting to Stoke Mandeville

From London, it’s about 50 minutes on Chiltern Railways from Marylebone station to Stoke Mandeville station (also calls at Harrow on the Hill and Amersham tube stations). Then about 20 minutes walk to the archaeology site.

As you’re in the area, and if you fancy making a day of it, then the nearby town of Wendover is very much worth a visit as well. Great Missenden would be as well, except that its main attraction, the Roald Dahl museum won’t be open in May.

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