Hampshire & Isle of Wight

Britain's 'oldest hospital found' by archaeologists

The archaeological dig at Winchester
Image caption Excavations revealed a range of buildings and "convincing evidence" for building foundations

Archaeologists say they have uncovered what may be Britain's earliest known hospital.

Radio carbon testing at the site of a former leprosy hospital in Winchester, Hampshire, has revealed some burials took place between AD 960-1030.

Excavations revealed a range of buildings and "convincing evidence" for building foundations.

Until now, most historians believed hospitals in Britain only dated from after the Norman conquest of 1066.

A number of other artefacts and pits found at the site also relate to the same time, the archaeologists said.

Winchester was the capital of England throughout a large part of the Anglo-Saxon period and after the Norman Conquest, before London replaced it in the 12th Century.

'Intriguing insight'

Dr Simon Roffey, of the University of Winchester, which conducted the dig, said: "Historically, it has always been assumed that hospitals were a post-conquest phenomena, the majority founded from the late 11th Century onwards.

"However, our excavations have revealed a range of buildings and, more significantly, convincing evidence for a foundation in the 10th Century.

Image caption An aerial view of the site in Winchester, which may house Britain's earliest known hospital

"Our excavations at St Mary Magdalen offer an intriguing insight into a little known aspect of the history of both Winchester and England. It is undoubtedly a site of national importance."

Prof Nicholas Orme, a leading researcher on medieval hospitals, added: "I have only studied the documentary evidence but I could not find any such evidence for a hospital before 1066 except perhaps as an activity within a monastery or minster.

"A late Anglo-Saxon hospital would surely be a first for archaeology and indeed for history."

One of the earliest known hospitals in Britain is Harbledown, in Canterbury, founded by Lanfranc in the 1070s, following the Norman Conquest.

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