Two skeletons were found under the floor of the former Angel and Oak pub in Bale during renovations there this December.


My neighbour John knocked on my door to let me know why four police cars had been parked outside when the first one was discovered, more excitement than had occurred in Bale for many a day, and the event was blazoned on the EDP advertising board outside the newsagent in Holt a couple of days later.


It turned out that the burials were either in a part of Bale Churchyard connected to, or a separate burial area belonging to a medieval chapel, dedicated to St Botolph, and previously suspected to hold burials, as other human bones had turned up in the past.


Kelly’s directory states that until 1776 at the north east of Bale church there was a building formerly called St. Botolph’s Chapel which received gifts in pre-Reformation Will bequests. ‘In this town was also a chapel dedicated to St Botolph, in 1421. Richard Brown gave by will in 1510 13s 4d to the repair of it’.  the chapel is mentioned in both Francis Blomefield’s History of Norfolk 1805, and M J Armstrong’s History and Antiquities of The County of Norfolk 1781.


Chantry chapels, which I presume this was, for the care of souls whose owners could afford to pay for it, were abolished at the Reformation, in 1539; usually they were sold off. In the above writings there is no mention of the actual position of the chapel, and it has disappeared so completely that it has been suggested that the pub, which first appears in records in 1781, when it was sold, and the first recorded licensee appears, was built on the site. However the pub is more East North East of the church than North East where it was supposed to be.


A little mystery, especially since the archaeologist who took the bodies up (for later reburial in the churchyard) thought that these two had been buried rather later, in the sixteen hundreds, as there were a couple of pieces of coffin remaining on one of them.


There were traces of other burials remaining as stains in the sand, an acid soil which destroys most remains over the centuries. Possibly there would have been earlier burials further down; these two were only just under the floor level, and were found when the builder broke up the concrete floors. I wonder if the consecrated ground was used as overflow from the churchyard after the Reformation.


The archaeologist was able to give us villagers some details about the second person, Time Team style. Probably female as very slender boned, though narrow hipped, died in her thirties, had a long term bacterial illness which left marks on her bones (would that be TB?). Perhaps she never achieved her potential size because of the disease.


Sadly the front of her skull was damaged as that was the point at which she was discovered. The other, more obviously female, died in her twenties. The head of the first and the feet of the second had disappeared as they were built over. So close to the surface – surely the original builders of the pub must have uncovered them, and quickly covered them up again!

At the moment the bones are in separate clean sacks, waiting for reburial in the main churchyard.