Ickworth bones

BONES found under the floor boards of one of Suffolk’s grandest aristocratic houses have shed light on a more humble story from of its history.

Hearts were racing as workmen at Ickworth House near Bury St Edmunds, unearthed the remains in the famous rotunda but archaeologists have since shown the bones were not evidence of a grisly secret.

Paul White, of the National Trust, which owns and maintains the house, said: “It was a normal afternoon in late February, just like any other, when rumours started spreading through the offices. It was a discovery made by one of the builders carrying out work on the top floor of the Rotunda.

“After lifting the floor boards in Ickworth’s textiles storeroom, the contractor, Ian Lawrence, discovered a set of bones. Questions began flying through people minds – perhaps there was some religious or pagan motivation behind the deposit.”

The National Trust’s Regional Archaeologist; Angus Wainwright, was called to the scene. He bagged the bones and took them to his laboratory.

Mr White said: “The discovery of the bones may not have been the start of a darker story, but it does throw light on a fascinating period in which the rotunda which built.

“They were sheep bones; and there was a sense of relief but perhaps a secret sense of disappointment there wasn’t a bigger story at hand.

“After some investigation on behalf of Angus, it became clear that the sheep bones were cut and professionally butchered, and had probably been the well earned lunch that the builders of Ickworth had enjoyed whilst fitting out the house.

“Rather than dispose of the bones outside, they chose to inter them under the floor boards. The bones had dried out quickly so they produced no smell, and had probably been under the floor since the 1820s.”

The find goes hand in hand with the discovery of some Georgian graffiti in the attic space of the rotunda – the original builders had carved their names and dates into one of the window frames.

Building work on the rotunda began in 1795 but stopped in 1803 and was not restarted until 1820, when Frederick Hervey, the 1st Marquess of Bristol, had enough money to continue work on the family seat.

The dates on the signatures in the attic range from 1820 all the way to 1920 and are now going to be conserved behind a screen.

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