BONES that could be King Alfred the Great have been exhumed from a Winchester churchyard.

Amid great secrecy, archaeologists opened the unmarked grave at St Bartholomew’s in Hyde yesterday.

Human skeletal remains were found and have been taken for storage at an undisclosed location.

The work was undertaken with no pre-publicity because there were concerns about the security of the site, said a diocesan spokesman Nick Edmonds today.

An unnamed TV company was present at the operation which started at dawn behind metal screens and took about ten hours.

The excavation was approved by Chancellor of the Diocese of Winchester, Judge Christopher Clark QC, whose order imposed confidentiality on the proceedings.

Before work began, the Bishop of Basingstoke, the Rt Revd Peter Hancock and Revd Canon Cliff Bannister, Rector of St Bartholomew’s, led prayers at the grave. Canon Paul Townsend, of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portsmouth, was also present.

The work was commissioned by St Bartholomew’s, supported financially by Hyde900, the community group.

No formal permission for scientific investigation has yet been given, although approval must be viewed now as a formality, especially as Judge Clark QC is the authority.

Mr Edmonds added this afternoon:  “Understandably, there is widespread interest. For now we can’t say any more about the remains, their nature or whereabouts, but promise to keep people updated when we can.

“Although no application has yet been made to carry out any scientific investigation, we do acknowledge that there is local interest in learning more about exactly what this grave contained.

“This would be possible by means of a faculty application to the Consistory Court of The Diocese. This could be made by St Bartholomew’s Church, or by a private applicant, which could be Hyde900.

“This would be subject to the Court's satisfaction with everything proposed, both legally and ethically. Whatever happens, the remains will stay in the care of the Church and the Consistory Court until they are reinterred.”

Mr Bannister said: “I am very pleased and relieved that this sensitive procedure has been completed successfully, and that the contents the grave are now safe and sound.

“Although we know there is historical interest in this site, our chief concern this week has been to ensure that the exhumation of human remains from a consecrated Christian burial site has been fulfilled in a reverent and dignified manner, on the Chancellor’s advice and order, with all diligence to professional standards and best practice.”