2014 saw the completion of the excavation evaluation stage of Dig Greater Manchester and the end of Year Three of the project. The last three of our eleven exploratory digs took us to Tameside, Blackburn and Trafford where we investigated the Victoria villa residences of the region’s new manufacturing elite as a contrast to the workers’ housing and cavalry barracks of Year Two. This fitted the research aims of the project which are to examine the significance of community archaeology, the practice of community archaeology and the archaeology of industrialisation in the Manchester city region.
In March 2014 DGM spent two week excavating the remains of Eastwood House in Cheetham Park, Stalybridge, Tameside. Eastwood House was built in the late 1820’s by John Cheetham (1802-86) a second generation cotton manufacturer. When the last Cheetham family member died in in 1931 the house and its grounds were left to Stalybridge Borough Council. The following year the grounds and buildings were opened as a public park when 15,000 people attended the opening. Eastwood House, began to decline and was demolished in the 1950’s but the grounds survive as Cheetham Park with a legacy that it was directed that the woodland either side of the stream that fed the nearby mill reservoir should be a nature reserve (one of the first nature reserves in Britain).
Our volunteers with the help of the Tameside Archaeology Society, uncovered 90% of the footprint of Eastwood House. This building had extensive stone and brick walls, several cellar rooms one of which we have partially opened up to reveal a stone flag floor, timber door frame, stone shelves and painted walls. Amongst the demolition deposits were a wide range of 18th and 19th century finds. These included Minton floor tiles, the servant bell system, what appears to be a dumb waiter pulley, lots of ornate metal fixtures and fittings, clay pipes and vast amounts of moulded wall plaster complete with paint and gold leaf, and a pair of hob nail boots.
In May we ventured into Lancashire to excavate in Witton Park, Blackburn. Here we were looking for the remains of Witton House, an early 19th century mansion. This had been built in 1800 by Henry Feilden, the biggest landowner in Blackburn at that time and heavily involved in the textile trade. It replaced the old 16th century hall, which lay to the east. The stable block is all that remains standing of this manufacturer’s house, so we had the opportunity to explore the house, revealing in the process extensive brick foundations and floors and an array of 19th and 20th century finds.
Our last evaluation saw us excavating remains associated with Longford Hall in Longford Park, Trafford, during October. This site is best known for its association with the Manchester cotton magnate John Ryland. He bought the estate in 1857 and lived here until his death in 1888. Though he rebuilt the hall and landscaped the grounds there was an earlier hall on the site from the 18th century. The park is also crossed by one of the regions’ most mysterious ancient monuments, Nico Ditch, a probable Dark Age boundary marker. Thus, to finish the evaluation stage of the project we excavated the out-buildings to the rear of the hall, which proved to be very fragmentary, and hunted for the line of the ancient ditch, which proved elusive.
After three years we have explored a range of agricultural, civil and domestic sites relating to the region’s industrialisation. In the process we have also captured feed back from hundreds of adult volunteers which we are now about to analyse in detail. Year Four will see us returning to the two best sites for more extensive excavations and following up the impact of the project on a cross-section of our adult volunteers who took part in the first three years of Dig Greater Manchester. There will also be a ranging of popular and academic publications on the project throughout 2015. If you would like to join us at Radcliffe Tower in April to May, Buile Hill Park in Salford in September and October, or are a previous volunteer who would like to take part in our impact study watch out for details in the local media and on our Facebook page.