The State of Archaeology in North West England: A Six Year Retrospective

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Mid-19th century Bovril bottle from Hulme Barracks, Manchester

In November 2018 I stepped down as Chair of the Council for British Archaeology North West after six years. As in the previous five years of the fortunes of archaeology in the region in the last twelve months have been varied. On the positive side, Lancashire County Council re-opened Queen Street Mill and Helmshore Mill industrial museums in spring 2018 and have committed themselves to finding a long-term future for both nationally important industrial museums and are seeking to establish a partnership with the National Trust. In July UNESCO agreed to keep the Liverpool World Heritage site on its endangered list, rather than revoke its status, as long as Liverpool City Council came up with a long-term management and conservation plan. However, staff cuts at the Archaeology Department at the University of Manchester saw the department merged with classics and ancient history, and the number of archaeology lecturers reduced to just 4.5 full time posts. This was despite lobbying by CBA North West and others.

Nationally, the Government issued a new Heritage Statement in autumn 2017. The focus is on England, but it does cover most of the UK. The word “archaeology” is limited in its occurrence, although case studies included industrial and prehistoric sites. The report was fairly well balanced with an emphasis on economic regeneration and the role heritage can play in this. The All Parliamentary Party Group for Industrial Heritage launched a report on the current state and challenges of industrial heritage on 1st May 2018. In this document North West archaeology was mentioned in the context of severe local Government cut backs to industrial museum funding (see above).

The Historic England-funded project to update the North West Regional Research Framework for the Historic Environment, in which CBA North West is a partner, has progressed well. CBA North West set up a blogging site to make accessible draft copies of the resource chapters and agenda questions (https://archaeologynorthwest.wordpress.com/). The group also held a joint project conference in the spring at Salford University as out annual ‘Archaeology North West’ event. The project is due to end in early 2019 and the group is in the process of editing a volume updating the resource assessment.

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Lancashire looms in Queen Street Mill, Burnley

Looking over the six years I have been Chair there have been may highs and a few lows. Inevitably the loss of friends closely associated with CBA North West, as standard bearers for archaeology in the region, comes to minds, especially Ben Edwards, Brian Grimsditch, Peter Lange, Derek Pierce, and Rick Turner. It’s also tempting to dwelling on the continuing cuts to curatorial planning archaeology staff in the region, down over 20% in this period. Yet the planning archaeology service for Merseyside has been reconstituted and the IHBC recently announced a small rise in the number of heritage planning specialists in local government over the last 12 months.

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The Silverdale Viking Hoard

In the last six years CBA North West has lobbied and promoted archaeology across the region. One of my memorable occasions acting in the role of Chair was two years ago, sitting as part of a discussion panel on the future of Chester’s amphitheatre and of the associated Dee House in the meeting hall at the town hall in Chester faced with several hundred passionate defenders of the city’s archaeology ad heritage. CBA North West has has held 19 conferences ranging from the Mesolithic to the archaeology of Peterloo, and established new forms of promoting archaeology in the region using social media platforms such as blogs and twitter. However, I’m particularly proud of the financial support CBA NW has given to research in the region. Established in 2004 our research grants have since 2012 invested nearly £5000 in the archaeology of the region from supporting the conservation of the Silverdale Viking hoard to grant aiding radio-carbon dates for a Mesolithic camp site in Mottram-in-Longdendale, local societies, museums, and young archaeologist clubs benefitting from this fund.

Finally, I’d like to thank all past and current committee members of CBA North West I have served within during the period 2012 to 2018. Voluntary groups such as this rely on the good will of many individuals, and in an era of increasing competition for volunteers CBA North West has remained active and well-supported. The last six years has seen great changes in the region with increasing threats from funding cuts and redevelopment. Yet we must not overlook the new discoveries and continuing engagement of local communities in exploring their past. I wish the new Chair and committee well as they navigate the choppy waters of archaeology and heritage discovery and protection over the next few years.

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