Man who used life savings to buy a field discovers ruins of an entire lost city under the ground

By Lydia Willgress at Telegraph UK

Stuart Wilson paid £32,000 for the 4.6-acre plot of land in 2004 after becoming convinced an ancient industrial town was buried underneath. Photo / Wales New Service
Stuart Wilson paid £32,000 for the 4.6-acre plot of land in 2004 after becoming convinced an ancient industrial town was buried underneath. Photo / Wales New Service

It is an unusual decision and, possibly, one that you might come to regret; using your life savings to buy an empty field.

But for one history fan it was a decision that paid off - after he dug it up and discovered it was home to a medieval city.

Englishman Stuart Wilson paid £32,000 ($57,000) for the 4.6-acre plot of land in 2004 after becoming convinced an ancient industrial town called Trellech - one of the largest medieval towns in Wales - may be buried underneath.

The 37-year-old had been digging in the field opposite following a tip-off from a local farmer when the land went up for auction.

He said he had looked at the area and realised it did not look typically agricultural, with large, square fields. Instead, he thought a "footprint" had been created by a structure under the ground.

After putting in the highest bid and winning the plot, the former toll booth worker had to live with his parents so he could finance the field and only managed to move back out last year.

But he said his decision was worth it, as his team have since found a moated mansion, around 400 square metres in size, and rare artefacts including a medieval flower pot.

Some of the plot after it was dug up by a series of volunteers.
Some of the plot after it was dug up by a series of volunteers.

"Out of all the decisions I have made in my life I would say buying the field was one of the good ones," he said.

"I have to say that even with all the problems that I have had or that may occur, it was definitely the right thing to do."

As well as living with his parents, Wilson said he has also turned down jobs he may have otherwise applied for in order to keep working on the plot.

"I should have really bought a house and got out from my parents', but I thought: 'To hell with my parents, I will stay at home and I shall buy a field instead," he said. "People said 'you must be mad'."

Wilson, who started excavating with a small dig in 2004, said the "quite large" settlement, which dates back to the 13th century, would have had a population of around 10,000 people, making it around a quarter of the size of London.

"This population grew from nothing to that size within 25 years," he said. "Now it took 250 years for London to get to 40,000 people, so we're talking a massive expansion.

"And that's just the planned settlement. The slums would have been quite numerous. There you would be talking even 20,000 plus. It's a vast area.

The unearthed section as viewed from the air.
The unearthed section as viewed from the air.

"If you're working in the fields you are living hand to mouth every single day - it's a really hard existence. Suddenly, a big industrial town comes here, this is a great opportunity for you.

"You up-sticks - to hell with your land - 'let's move to the industrial town where the opportunity is'."

He explained the settlement was the home of several Norman lords of the De Clare family, who used it as a place to mass produce iron.

Its precise location has not been known for hundreds of years after the city was lost to civil war and famine in the 17th century.

Archaeologists and university officials had supposedly located the industrial city near the present village of Trellech in Monmouthshire, but Wilson disagreed.

"We knew from history that Trellech should have been the largest in the area," he said. "What they had found was not big enough."

In the last 15 years, Wilson has been joined by hundreds of volunteers - both from the local area and, in the summer, from universities and colleges - as they unearthed what he now believes is the hidden city.

The excavation has been featured on BBC 4's Digging for Britain series, while Wilson was also invited by the Cardiff Archaeological Society to speak at Cardiff University before Christmas.

Wilson estimates the project has cost around £200,000 in total over the last 15 years. He is now seeking planning permission for an education centre.

He said: "As we take more on, there's a greater need to expand our campsite and while there are several campsites within a walkable distance, it would be better to have something here."

- Daily Telegraph UK

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