This month (the week beginning the 13 April) Dig Greater Manchester returned to Radcliffe Tower in Bury for the first of our flagship community digs this year. This is the fourth season of excavations on this late medieval and post-medieval manorial site since 2012, and each time the archaeology story has become more complex. Our aim this year in returning to the site is twofold. As a flagship community dig it is designed to run for five weeks and be open to volunteers and members of the public from across the city region. Along with a second dig, at Buile Hill in Salford during September, it is the culmination of four years of research into community archaeology methodologies, the social impact of the DGM project and into the Manchester city region’s industrialisation.
BUT it is also the conclusion of an archaeological research journey that began in July 2012 with the second ever DGM evaluation excavation. This looked at industrial remains in Close Park, and at workers’ housing to the north of the tower along Church Street. This was the inspiration for the HLF and Bury Council supported Radcliffe Heritage Project. In 2013 we returned to investigate, through this community project, the story of the hall and tower from its late medieval origins through its decline into a farm and finally its partial demolition and swamping by industry. This involved a study of the archaeological remains of Tower Farm, examination of the c. 1840 workers housing along Tower Street, the stripping of the site of the hall and a detailed 3D study of the upstanding remains of the tower. It’s also involved a wider study of the manorial landscape of the hall and its tower, much of which was undertaken by a small team of volunteers researchers especially trained for this by staff from the University of Salford. This research included studies of the tithe barn, the church and its graveyard, the geology of the tower fabric and the industrial landscape around Radcliffe Tower. The 2013 excavations revealed substantial medieval deposits at the western end of the hall range and these were the subject of a third season of investigations in 2014, which frankly threw up more questions than it answered with an array of medieval walls and pottery underlying and sealed by the hall range. At the same time our impact study of the DGM project, ‘I think therefore I am’ used several of the Radcliffe volunteers as detailed case-studies of the social impact of the project.
So it was that having assessed all eleven DGM evaluations undertaken between 2012 and 2014 Radcliffe Tower was chosen as one of the two flagship sites. In the first week of the 2015 dig we have already uncovered substantial remains relating to the medieval hall and its western wing, including several red sandstone walls and a flagged floor surface. We also have the possible remains of a late medieval stone structure with 18th and 19th century modifications, as well as 19th century brick walls, stone flagged floors and tipper toilet blocks associated with the former workers housing which stood on Tower Street. We’ve even found some of the Bury Archaeology Group’s old ‘feature’ tags from their 1979 dig! More than 100 individuals have booked places on the dig, as well as many schools, all of whom will be helping to piece together the storey of Radcliffe Tower. Later in the year there will be a virtual and actual heritage trail launched encompassing the tower, as well as a population publication: all of which means that we have just three more weeks to uncover the origins of the hall and its tower. Watch this space.