RESIDENTS of Hyde with property within the precincts of the medieval abbey are being invited to take part in a community archaeology project.

Hyde900 is investigating what lies beneath their gardens in the area close to the burial place of King Alfred the Great.

The project is being launched with a pilot dig involving two small pits in a garden in Alswitha Terrace, King Alfred Place, over the weekend of Friday-Sunday, April 22-24.

Up to 48 volunteers will be able to take part in 'two hour sessions' under the supervision of professional archaeologists.

The garden is located where the abbey church's south transept is believed to have met the cloisters and is just a few yards from the burial place of King Alfred the Great, his wife and son.

The organisers stress, however, that they are not 'bone-hunting' but encouraged by the prospect of uncovering a variety of building materials including foundation stones and floor tiles.

There will be an open day and mini-exhibition of any discoveries in the garden on Sunday April 23 together with a 'Finds Surgery' for residents to consult experts about objects from their own houses and gardens.

David Spurling, of Hyde900 and the project leader, said: "This specific site has not been investigated since the late 18th century when prisoners at the adjacent County Bridewell (Winchester's prison) dug over the rough ground to make a garden for the prison governor.

"There are, however, many finds, dating back to the time of the abbey, from this general area so we are hoping to strike lucky and add to our understanding of the abbey and its history."

The dig is being supported by WARG (Society for Winchester Archaeology and Local History), who will be providing the supervisory and recording expertise, and by David Ashby, at the University of Winchester's Archaeology department, who has directed over 40 test pit projects in Oxford.

It has the approval of the Winchester City Council Archaeologist with the objectives of identifying the location and properties of the south end of the south transept of the abbey church and any adjacent buildings.

Mr Spurling said: "In the course of the weekend, teams of volunteers, working under supervision, will trowel, sieve and process finds in the way that you have seen on TV programmes such as Time Team.

"But it's all on a small scale so nothing too onerous will be required and the stints will be quite short. The project offers a chance for community engagement in the archaeology of one of the most important medieval ecclesiastical sites in Winchester, so it could be very interesting indeed."

It is hoped that there will be a video feed via the HYDE900 website with regular updates on what has been found.

Hyde900 was established in 2005 to mark and celebrate Hyde's history, environment and community and, in particular, the area's link with King Alfred the Great who was buried in Hyde Abbey.

It undertakes regular exhibitions, talks, walks and social and cultural activities. It was actively involved in the 'The Search for Alfred the Great' and works in conjunction with a number of other local institutions and organisations, including the University of Winchester and the Hampshire Cultural Trust.