RESTORERS of a medieval tomb in Much Marcle Church found far more than they expected, - the body of its famous occupant, rapped in lead.

Work on restoring the fourteenth century Blanche Mortimer tomb in St Bartholomew's Church began three year's ago, but no one expected a body to still be there.

Janet Chapman, Vice Chairman of the Parochial Church Council said: "It is one of the most important tombs in England.

"Rafts of visitors are coming to the church, I think because of the tomb. Before now, the tomb has been boarded up for two and half years, and has not been visible."

The tomb has long been known to be important, with expert, Simon Jenkins, in his influential book "England's Thousand Best Churches" calling the effigy of Blanche, "Much Marcle's Sleeping Beauty".

But when the tomb chest was opened by leading conservator, Michael Eastham, he saw something he had not witnessed in three decades of medieval tomb restoration.

Blanche Mortimer, who died aged just 31 in 1347, was still there, wrapped head to foot in lead, much as a mummy is wrapped in linen bandages.

The PCC was directing the operation under the support and guidance of the Diocesan Advisory Committee; and although permission was granted to remove Blanche from the tomb, she had to remain in the church during the restoration, and then be returned to her restored tomb.

The tomb itself was in need of urgent work because it was starting to lean and damaging water content in the stone was very high.

Experts suspect that Blanche Mortimer's body may be fairly intact, however. The lead wrap around her feet was worn in places, and bones could be seen.

The bill for the restoration project is likely to cost in the region of £60,000, and fund-raising is still ongoing, although the restoration work is now complete.

So far, around £40,000 has been raised, through private benefactors and fund-raising events, from cheese and wine parties to concerts.

Blanche was the wife of Sir Peter Grandison and daughter of the first Earl of March, Sir Roger Mortimer. The canopy of her tomb is carved with both Mortimer and Grandison Arms.

Si Roger Mortimer, the ruler of the Welsh Marches, which included the Ledbury area, helped to overthrow King Edward II.

He effectively ruled England for three years, until he himself was overthrown and executed.

Anyone wishing to contribute towards the restoration project should phone 01531 660664.