After four years in the field the excavation phase of the Dig Greater Manchester community project came to an end in October 2015. The final dig was a flagship excavation of six weeks at Buile Hill Park in Salford. The other flagship dig was at Radcliffe Tower (a Greater Manchester’s Past Revealed volume is imminent on that site). The flagship sites were chosen for a revisit based upon the best archaeology finds and community response from the evaluation stage (2012-15). The excavation further investigated the 18th and 19th century remains associated with the Hart Hill estate, which were partially uncovered during the 2013 evaluation dig.
Hart Hill was built in 1859 for James Dugdale, merchant, and comprised a house in an Elizabethan style adjoined on the west by service rooms, a glasshouse and conservatory, and a yard and coach houses. Census returns show that the house was completed by 1861 when James Dugdale was listed here at the head of a household which included more than a dozen servants. The house built by James Dugdale replaced an earlier substantial residence, shown on a map of 1815 as the property of a Mr Simpson. The Simpsons had been involved with the construction of Manchester’s first purpose-built cotton-spinning mill, Arkwright’s Mill, on Shudehill in the early 1780s.
This earlier mansion was situated in wooded grounds and by the 1840s was approached via a lodge on Eccles Old Road. In the census of 1841 the house was occupied by Thomas Trueman, merchant, while an Anne Jenkle, gatekeeper, presumably lived at the lodge. This residence in turn probably replaced an earlier farm, for ‘Harts Hill’ is mentioned in the Eccles parish registers as early as the 17th century.
The 2015 excavation targeted three areas; the eastern extent of the family wing of Hart Hill House; the stables, coach house, and workshop structures at the western extent of the site; and finally the remains of the earlier 18th century residence.
In Trench 1 we found the brick-built remains of the cellars of the family wing of the 1859 hall. After cleaning and photography a few intriguing features were noted including monumental brickwork suggesting a rather impressive looking front to the building, more so than in the few images we have of the site. Elsewhere in the cellars there was a blocked fireplace and evidence that some partition walls had been removed.
Trench 2 looked at the remains of the Conservatory, Gardener’s Planting House, and the Farrier’s Workshop. Most striking was the large and impressive drain complex revealed amongst the foundations and cobbled surfaces outside these buildings. The cobbles did not quite meet the walls, and it turned out that these belonged to the pre-1859 landscape and were truncated by the new build. There was also some evidence for robbed-out earlier walls on the edge of the cobbles. Furthermore, a brick wall on a different alignment from the 1859 material was uncovered which might relate to the earlier Hart Hill House.
The most exciting find, though, was in Trench 3. This revealed several brick walls which belonged to the 1859 Coach Houses and Harness Room. But there was also remains of robbed out walls for an earlier structure. Most surprisingly we located and half-sectioned a large rubbish pit, over 1.2m deep and over 1.5m wide, which appears to have acted as Hart Hill’s own personal landfill. Most of the finds from the dig have come from here and we appear to have a cross-section of household rubbish from a high status site spanning the 1860s to the 1920s. The hundreds of finds have so far included window and table glass, dinner plates such as a late 19th century Hawthorden plate by Ridgeways, tea cups, ointment jars, stoneware Dundee marmalade jars for James Keiller & Sons and a stoneware creamery jar for Hailwood’s of Manchester. As this material was a sealed assemblage from a single site we have a very rare opportunity to look in detail at the waste from just one household over a span of half a century. A parting archaeological present from Dig Greater Manchester.
The project now moves into its final phase of report and article writing, exhibition (we have already had a small display in Manchester Museum’s new temporary gallery space) and publication. A final end of project conference in planned for the autumn of 2016 when we will be launching several popular publications on the project.