Roman villa uncovered beneath old church

TUESDAY: Experts trying to work out why a church is falling down have revealed a host of fascinating secrets including a Roman Villa hidden underneath.

Huge cracks in St James the Great in Ab Kettleby forced the congregation to shut up shop about three years ago but active villagers keen to see the church reopen launched a charity to fund repairs.

The St James Restoration Fund has raised nearly 45,000, sinking 22,000 into investigatory work discovering pits, ditches and other finds hinting at a long historical past including burials.

Trustee Andree Carter said: "There was a very strong feeling among the village that we didn't want it to be decommissioned so we've worked hard at fundraising, liaised with English Heritage and commissioned these reports.

"The experts' view is that the church is built on the site of a former Roman villa. Along with other features under the building, this could be what is causing the problems."

Those other features included the rather grim find of a number of inhumations or burials.

There is also a ditch which perfectly dissects the church running north to south, a baffling feature which may have something to do with a series of humps and bumps to the south east of the church.

These look like they could have been a pond to supply food to monks, but until further archaeological investigation takes place, it's difficult to tell.

For now though, all that's certain is whatever is under there is causing serious problems.

Andree said: "They're not 100 per cent what's causing the cracks and the church isn't falling down in any one direction.

"It's been recommended we start by making it water tight and we'll take it from there.

"We hope to hear from English Heritage by October, one of the conditions they set is that it is open for people to come and see. There's so much we want to do with the place."

l The next fundraiser is a concert on October 16 featuring veteran guitarist Gordon Giltrap, who composed the theme tune to the BBC's Holiday programme.

Tickets are 10 available from David Sykes (01664) 823097 or Andree on (01664) 823253.