Greater Manchester Archaeology Day Part 2

The early 1780s wheelpit at Arkwright's Shudehill Mill, Manchester, as excavated by OAN in 2014.

The early 1780s wheelpit at Arkwright’s Shudehill Mill, Manchester, as excavated by OAN in 2014.

The second half of Greater Manchester Archaeology Day on Saturday 29th November 2014 had a community and industrial archaeology focus. The first speaker of the afternoon was Ian Miller of Oxford Archaeology North talking about Arkwright’s Shudehill Mill in Manchester. This was Arkwright’s last mill and arguably was built to challenge the Manchester textile merchants. The site holds many mysteries, not least the details of Arkwright’s attempts to run for the first time spinning machinery by steam power. Though destroyed by bombing in 1940 a Time Team dig of three days in 2005 showed that significant 18th century remains survived including a wheel pit. Further excavation by OAN in 2014 revealed extensive and deep spectacular remains relating to the power systems including a series of engine houses spanning the period 1790-1818, whilst the original early 1780s wheelpit survived almost intact.

Andy Cootes of the South Manchester Archaeological Research Team (SMART) discussed the community excavations at Cheadle Green. Seven trenches were dug over three years by the volunteer group with help from the University of Salford, looking for remains of the 18th and 19th century Cheadle Hall. This was a large bay-fronted Georgian-style three-storey brick house with cellars. The digs between 2011 and 2014 have revealed part of the hall foundations and some outbuildings. In addition there was evidence for a timber cottage from the late medieval period, possibly a precursor to the Georgian hall. This project shows the value of small-scale archaeology on the same site over several years and the positive impact of such local community work: the footprint of the hall has now been included within the newly landscaped green.

I then spoke about the community excavations in 2012-14 at Radcliffe Tower, Bury. This reviewed the three seasons’ work, the first of which was undertaken as part of the Dig Greater Manchester community project. The latter two seasons were part of the Radcliffe Heritage Project, an HLF funded project inspired by the 2012 season. There were three broad types of archaeology: workers’ housing on Church Row and Tower Street; the remains of the 19th and 20th century farmstead; and the late medieval hall and its stone tower. For the first time remains of the late medieval hall, sketched around 1800, were located. Though damaged by later activity, the outline of the open hall was visible. Unexpectedly two phases were identified in the form of an earlier western range and from the medieval pottery which included two types of roof tile.

After a short break, necessary at such a busy and intense conference, there were the two final talks. Patrick Maloney of Wigan Archaeology Society discussed the archaeology of the 19th century Kirkless Iron & Steel Works. Founded in the mid-19th century on the Leeds Liverpool Canal it closed in the 1930s. Though the iron blast furnaces now lie beneath a huge concrete raft the site of the steel furnaces and railway sidings is now a wildlife reversion area. The alkali nature of the contaminated soils has provided some rare flora and fauna habitats. In amongst this are fragmentary but large remains of the iron works. Using historic maps these remains were related to the known development of the site ahead of excavation work in 2015.

The last talk of the day was given by Sarah Cattell, of CfAA at the University of Salford, on year three of the Dig Greater Manchester community archaeology project. I have talked about DGM in earlier blogs and will in future ones, but in brief this is an access and training project designed to extend archaeology participation beyond the usual groups and individuals who might come to a conference such as GMAD. So far eleven sites in eleven boroughs have been investigated involving 103 schools, 1500 individual volunteers and 150 college and university students. In 2014 the project excavated three factory owners’ villa residences in Tameside, Burnley and Trafford. The quality of the surviving archaeology varied greatly, from the spectacular foundations of Eastwood House in Cheetham Park in Stalybridge, to the fragmentary remains of the out buildings at Longford Hall in Stretford. The big news of the day was the announcement of the two flagship, five-week, digs that will take place in 2015 revisiting the best of the eleven sites. The first will be at Radcliffe Tower in Bury, which will happen in March and April. The second will be in Buile Hill Park in Salford, and will take place in September and October. This should provide plenty of material for Greater Manchester Archaeology Day 2015.

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