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THE shock discovery of a body inside a county church memorial has caused amazement in the world of archaeology and surprised experts.

Michael Eastham, a conservator of sculpture, has been working on the Grandison Memorial in St Bartholomew’s Church in Murch Marcle, for nearly two years but was taken aback when a mysterious coffin was discovered jammed inside the tomb-chest.

Mr Eastham, who has worked in buildings all over the country, carefully removed the lead coffin for examination from the memorial.

He said: "We could not work out what it was when we first took the stone panels from the front of the memorial.

"We thought it might be a layer of slate but as we explored further we realised it was a lead coffin. It's the first time in more than 30 years as a conservator that this has ever happened."

Originally, it was feared that the coffin had been hidden during the construction of the tomb in the late 14th century or possibly even added at a later date.

It has now been decided that it is almost certainly the coffin and remains of Blanche Mortimer whose memorial it is – wife of Sir Peter Grandison and daughter of the first Early of March, Roger Mortimer.

The tomb is crowned by an effigy of Blanche Mortimer and is regarded as one of the finest in the country.

The fact that it has lasted more than 600 years before work needed doing is a testament to the original workmanship and material used.

Until the discovery of the body, it was believed that memorials were built over or close to where the body had been buried under the floor of the church.

Sometimes memorials were built or at least work started before the person had died.

The coffin has since been returned to where it came from but with stainless steel supports inserted.

Since the discovery of the body, the work has been filmed to make sure a clear record is kept of the surprise findings.

"St Bartholomew’s is a stunning church anyway, the building dating from the early 13th century," added Paddy Benson, the archdeacon of Hereford.

"We felt that keeping as good a record as we can for future generations would be worthwhile because if Michael Eastham has done his work well it could be another 700 years before anyone gets a chance to look inside again."