For the last year I’ve been working on an exhibition about the archaeology of the city of Salford. Like many boroughs it’s seen a boom in exploration since developer-funded archaeology was made part of the planning process in 1990. However, the history of archaeological investigation in the city begins much earlier than that. A Bronze Age burial was uncovered at Clifton in 1787. Antiquarians recorded prehistoric and medieval artefacts when the Manchester Ship Canal was being built in the late 1880s. In the mid-20th century a Roman coin hoard was found on farmland at Boothstown in 1947. Yet, it was the 300th anniversary of the opening of the Bridgewater Canal, in 1966, which awakened interest in the new discipline of Industrial Archaeology within Salford. Local pioneers such as Prof Vivien Tomlinson at the University of Manchester and Hugh Malet of the University of Salford began initial recording work of the monument. In the mid-1960s excavations were also undertaken for the first time on the buried moat surrounding the medieval Ordall Hall. During 1978 to 1979 Prof Nick Higham went back to uncover the remains of the home farm that lay next to the hall. Also during the 1970s members of the Manchester Regional Industrial Archaeology Society began to explore the Salford landscape looking for other Bridgewater- and Brindley-related sites, such as Fletcher’s Canal at Wet Earth Colliery.
The foundation of the Greater Manchester Archaeological Unit (GMAU) in 1980 led directly to the promotion of archaeological research across the city with local involvement. GMAU’s Salford Heritage Project ran from 1985 to 1989 and undertook excavation, landscape and building recording ranging from the Iron Age farmstead at Great Woolden, through the timber-framed Kersall Cell and the site of the Bulls Head pub in the centre of medieval Salford, to industrial sites on Chapel Street, at Wet Earth Colliery and Worsley Delph. There was even an exhibition on the archaeology of Salford in 1987 at the Salford Museum and Art Gallery. Between 1980 and 1990 most of this work was funded through the Manpower Services Scheme (MSC) and later the Employment Training programme, giving raw young archaeology graduates such as myself their first supervisor jobs in the nascent profession. I well remember the mud and cold out at Great Woolden Hall.
Initially, the introduction of planning regulations promoting developer-funded archaeology work was slow to take effect, but the long boom of the years 1992 to 2008 finally reached central Salford in the early 2000s. By then at least half a dozen commercial archaeological units and consultancies were working across the city. Since 2012, with the revival of construction activity, this number has doubled. When GMAU closed in 2011 its planning advisory responsibilities were transferred to the Greater Manchester Archaeological Advisory Service (GMAAS), and its new home became the University Salford, which by then had its own archaeology centre.
The main focus of the current exhibition has been on new material uncovered since the advent of developer-funded archaeology in 1990, and especially since 2000. This includes the work of my own Centre for Applied Archaeology, established at the University of Salford in September 2009, and seven years old this month. However, some of the key sites discovered in the 19th century (a Bronze Age burial found at Broughton for instance) and explored during the 1980s and 1990s, such Great Woolden Hall, Kersal Cell and Ordsall Hall, are also covered.
The exhibition opened on 11th September at Ordsall Hall Museum, in central Salford, and is on until June 2017. Additional events linked to the exhibition are planned throughout that time, such as tours, talks and archaeology book launches. That extra material will also include a multi-part blog series on Salford’s archaeology. The medieval timber-framed hall also has an excellent cafe which sells tea, coffee and cake. So you’ve no excuse for not going really. Oh, and finally….did I say it was free?