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One green bottle could accidentally shed light on history

Torre Abbey (Image courtesy: Guy Henderson)

Torre Abbey is undergoing £2m restoration

Archaeologists working on a major restoration of Torquay’s Torre Abbey have discovered a rare green bottle which could shed new light on the history of the building.

The tiny bottle with an intricate ridged design is one of only five known to exist, and some of the others were found on board King Henry VIII’s flagship the Mary Rose, which sank in the Solent in 1545.

Delicate craftsmanship suggests the bottle was used by prestigious guests at the abbey, possibly for holding perfume or holy oils.

It is hoped that the Wrythen ribbed oval flask will one day go on show at the abbey, which is currently in the midst of a £2 million restoration.

Torbay Council owns the buildings, which are just off Torquay seafront. The abbey was founded in 1196, and is now the best-preserved medieval monastery in Devon and Cornwall.

Its rooms have had many uses over the years, including a parlour for the mayor of Torbay and the centrepiece of celebrations in 1948 when the Olympic torch burned at the abbey as the world’s best sailors raced in the bay.

Now archaeologists are meticulously peeling back layers of the abbey’s history to reveal its secrets.

Their work is part of a project funded by organisations including the National Lottery, the government and Torbay Council, to conserve and repair key parts of the historic building. The abbey has remained open throughout.

"Epic" quantities of scaffolding shroud parts of the abbey as work goes on in the fourteenth century gatehouse, the tower, the chapel and other parts of the site.

Some windows and roofs are being painstakingly removed, repaired, and replaced.

The bottle was found at Torre Abbey (image courtesy: Guy Henderson)

Marcie Weeks of Oakford Archaeology said: “We can create a real picture of how the abbey changed over time.

“We found an incredibly rare glass bottle during some analysis of a fireplace. It’s very exciting. It is one of only five complete ones we know of and it is in exceptionally good condition - perhaps the best preserved of this type that we have ever seen.

“They are thought to have been used for very expensive and precious liquids, and the bottles were in themselves very expensive. It shows us the kind of guests who may have been staying here - guests of very high status.”

The restoration is due to be completed by the end of August.

“That’s when it will all be uncovered and unwrapped,” said Torre Abbey manager Lucinda Heron.

“People drive past the abbey and probably don’t know what’s inside, and this project has made people look at it in a different way. We’re really pleased about that.

“It has also given us the opportunity to talk about the abbey in a different way, and at the end of the project we are going to be in a position to tell some really exciting stories.”

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