The period after the collapse of Roman government in the early 5th century until the Norman Conquest in 1066 is usually referred to as the Early Medieval era. The term reflects a period of transition brought about by the ending of Roman rule, Saxon migration and later Viking raiding and settlement from northern Europe. It’s also an era with a relative lack of written evidence (which led some to call it the ‘Dark Ages’), yet one with a growing amount of archaeological evidence for the way in which society changed and above all an intricate and beautiful artistic legacy, from carved stone crosses to decorated swords and helmets.
The majority of evidence for settlement within Greater Manchester during this period is provided by place names and religious sculpture. Just two Latin inscriptions are known from the period: a late Saxon memorial stone from Milnrow in Rochdale and the 11th century Angel Stone from Manchester Cathedral.
Whilst there are no inscriptions from Salford the area does have one of the oldest surviving place names in the region: Eccles. The name is probably from the old British word ‘egles’ meaning a church. The circular churchyard associated with the site is a further pointer towards an early medieval origin.
In 1889, during the digging of the Manchester Ship Canal through Eccles, part of a cross shaft was discovered in the river Irwell next to Salters Lane. The style of decoration, ring-encircled and meander patterns, are typical of Viking-era work in northern England. It probably dates from the 10th century and is now on display in Eccles parish church.
Also found during the digging of the ship canal through Barton was a wooden dugout canoe, now on display at Ordsall Hall. Estimated at around 900 years old it dates from the end of the Saxon period.
The Domesday Survey of 1086 provides the first written evidence for Salford. This document was a tax and landholding survey recording conditions in 1066 and 1086. It tells us that Salford was held by the king as a royal manor, and formed the principle administrative centre for a larger region referred to as the Hundred of Salford. The name Salford itself means ‘the ford by the willow’ and is first recorded in this document.