Secret Redgrave church vault to open for tours

Visitors to a north Suffolk church will get a once in a century opportunity to view an historic vault, which was discovered last year.

The hidden underground area at St Mary's Church in Redgrave was uncovered when a local actress put her foot through the floor during an amateur dramatics rehearsal of Quasimodo in the summer.

People will get the unique opportunity to look around the 600-year-old vault next weekend before a new entrance stone is put in place.

Officials from the Churches Conservation Trust and Redgrave Church Heritage Trust have received a great deal of interest in the medieval vault, which will be open for viewing on Saturday, February 5 and Sunday, February 6 between 10am and 4pm.

A hidden passageway was discovered in July when Kathy Mills, who has since been nicknamed 'Tomb Raider', accidentally put her foot through the floor.

Historians and archaeologists have since traced the history of the vault, which dates back to the 1400s and houses coffins of local lords of the manor, the Bacon and Holt families.

Bob Hayward, chairman of the Redgrave Church Heritage Trust, said there had been rumours about the existence of the vault and radar mappings had shown the underground space, but its entrance was only discovered following the accident last year.

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'When Kathy's foot went through it revealed that we needed to do some repair works and the timber supports have been replaced with stainless steel supports.

'We thought it would be a good time to let people see.'

'We were very surprised when we used a video camera down the hole in July, when you could not get down there, we had 300 people come over and all without exception said they wanted to go down. It is pretty unique.

'We have had a funeral historian down there who said that it was as rare as hen's teeth,' he said.

The vault was especially built for the Bacon family.

But in 1710 after the lordship of the manor had changed from the Bacons to the Holts, a large and impressive monument was built for Lord Chief Justice Sir John Holt, whose family took over ownership of the underground vault.

After the two public viewing days, the 400kg entrance stone will be replaced and is unlikely to be lifted again for the next 100 years.