Amateur historians have heard stories of a lost Tudor palace. Then, they dug it up.

For generations, the residents of Collyweston – a village in central England nestled against the River Welland – have passed down stories of a great Tudor palace, of royal processions through the valley below, of a king's mother who had called it home.

For hundreds of years, the stories persisted, even as memory of where the palace stood faded. But the tradition suddenly came to life when a handful of amateur historians unearthed parts of the long-lost palace, buried under a few meters of earth. Historians at the University of York verified their findings.

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

Mr Close, soft-spoken and friendly with a dimpled smile, grew up in Collyweston, with family roots dating back 400 years here. He remembers hearing stories of the palace as a boy. He belonged to Lady Margaret Beaufort, who played an important role in the Wars of the Roses, a series of civil wars for the English throne. He purchased it in 1487, two years after his son was crowned king as Henry VII. He, his son Henry VIII and Elizabeth I all walked the halls of the palace.

After the Tudor era, which ended in 1603, the palace fell into disrepair. Its contents were sold, some parts were demolished or repurposed, and new buildings were constructed. The palace slowly faded into history, disappearing into the earth. Almost.

Fast forward to 2017, when Mr. Close became president of the historical society, somewhat by accident. History had never been his passion, but he had promised his great-uncle, who once led the group, to help keep it going. A year after his great-uncle's death, he kept his promise.

Mr Close – who by day works for a British company that builds new homes – took over the company's top job at a precarious time. The group's membership, then mostly pensioners, had dwindled and it had only 500 pounds, about $635, in the bank. Meetings were spent poring over old Collyweston documents with little mission, and the few members were considering wrapping things up. Mr. Close knew he needed to inject some energy into the proceedings.

He moved the company's newsletter from print to email. He created social media accounts. And, crucially, he asked members what they really wanted to focus on. The answer was clear: they wanted to find the Tudor palace.

Villagers suspected the remains were hidden underground, but with limited expertise and even less money, they didn't have much to go on.

“It was our naivety that got us through this, really,” Mr. Close said with a chuckle.

First, they relied on what little they knew about the palace's history, including local traditions that had percolated for years.

Nowadays, Collyweston, with a population of 564, is little more than a few pretty stone houses with picturesque views across vast fields. But glimpses of real history were visible to anyone who looked closely, said Sandra Johnson, 68, a retired real estate agent who now does research full time for the historical society, in addition to helping care for her grandchildren.

He noted that local residents had long referred to a walled garden in the area as the “palace gardens” and that some terraces and fish ponds could still be seen carved into the landscape.

“We knew it was here,” she said, a wide smile growing on her face. “It was just a matter of getting the evidence to prove it.”

For several months, the group examined old maps and documents. That only took them so far.

Around that time, the group was joined by Dr Rachel Delman, now a historian at Oxford University, who was then researching the palace. Her work provided detailed descriptions of the palace buildings that she had found in various historical archives.

The research was “a little light shining on the project,” Close said.

But amateur historians quickly realized that archeology had become a high-tech activity and that they too had to embrace technology. They applied for grants and got enough money to hire a company to do a drone survey and geophysical scan of the village. The growing interest in Collyweston around their activities has helped attract new members.

The real breakthrough came from ground-penetrating radar scans in 2021 and 2022, which revealed man-made material beneath the soil. This guided them on where to dig.

Last May, the first evidence of the palace walls was found: well-defined portions of the base of a thick wall and a foundation that experts then verified.

The goal is to finally find enough artifacts to analyze and date. The group hopes to create a digital model of the palace to display in a small museum that Mrs Johnson maintains in the nave of the village church.

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

Professor Kate Giles, a historian at the University of York, pointed out that Britain is full of local history societies, but that in Collyweston's case “having a Tudor palace on your doorstep makes his work particularly interesting ”. and exciting.”

Dr Delman, whose research helped revive the hunt, said the discovery had the potential to enrich public knowledge about a former royal power base, commissioned by a Tudor woman, “making it a globally significant site national and international”.

In early February, volunteers took out their shovels for a two-day dig, one of many planned this year, to better understand what the palace looked like.

Down an alley on a small patch of grass, a dozen residents — including young professionals, parents, a former prison guard and several retirees — dug into four small fenced trenches under the watchful eye of Jennifer Browning, 50 , an archaeologist from the University of Leicester Archaeological Services who was hired to lead the excavation that day.

In one trench, earth was carefully removed from what appeared to be a flagstone floor and foundation stones. In another, part of a wall had begun to emerge.

“We don't know exactly what they are, but they're bound to be there,” said Ms. Browning, standing over a 3-foot-by-5-foot trench and pointing to three large stones in a neat line about two feet below. “The problem is that in a small trench like this you only get a small snapshot.”

The excavations so far have taken place on private land and, although the site is considered a historic monument, under English law it does not give the public the right to access it. The group had permission from the property owners to explore with trenches and then fill, but they had limited time for a weekend because the owners planned to pave this grassy patch soon.

“It's just interesting to see how this all comes together,” said James Mabbitt, 42, a volunteer who has lived in Collyweston for the past decade, as he stood in a trench, measuring stones possibly dating back to Tudor times.

His wife, Melissa, 43, and their young daughter wandered about, along with other villagers curious about the work. “For a tiny place, it has an amazing history,” Ms. Mabbitt said, excitement in her voice. She noticed that ancient Roman ruins had also recently been found nearby. “I think it captured the spirit of the local community.”

In the late afternoon, the volunteers stopped for a snack and a cup of tea while chatting about their findings. Mr Close congratulated them on discovering the “strongest evidence to date” of the palace buildings.

“I was asked, 'Why are you involved in something like this?'” he said. “Look, one day, when everyone leaves this world, you will be able to say you helped find a Tudor palace.”

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