Happy Second Birthday DGM

Surveying at Etherstone Hall, Wigan, the first DGM site in March 2012.

Surveying at Etherstone Hall, Wigan, the first DGM site in March 2012.

October marks the second birthday of the Dig Greater Manchester project. To recap, DGM is a five year community archaeology project designed to provide places for than 6000 school children and more than 1000 adult volunteers over that time, through the investigation of eleven sites in the ten boroughs of Greater Manchester, plus Blackburn and Darwen. It is thus one of the largest community archaeology projects currently running in Britain. So far several thousand school children and more than 600 adult volunteers have been involved in the project across seven digs.

Although professionally led the overall aim of DGM is to involve the highest number of people from local communities in the investigation of their own heritage under the theme of ‘Accessing, Exploring and Celebrating Your Heritage’. DGM builds upon the methodologies and strategies established during the Dig Moston and Dig Manchester community projects, which ran from 2003 to 2008,1 and the community projects developed by the Centre for Applied Archaeology since 2009. It also draws upon the experience of museum professionals as captured in the guidance documents of the now defunct Museums and Libraries Association (MLA). What has emerged is a methodology that combines both guided archaeological work and the empowerment of local communities through:

  • Encouraging participation by local communities and individuals that have never taken part in archaeological activities before.
  • Accessing as wide a range of local groups and individuals as possible.
  • Work on local authority land so as to minimise health and safety risks.
  • The investigation of urban archaeological sites not threatened by redevelopment.  
  • Providing the local community with the skills to continue independent research into their own archaeology and heritage.
  • A structured research framework.

The project is also looking at three broad research themes: the significance of community archaeology; the practice of community archaeology; and the archaeology of industrialisation in the Manchester City Region. The results of the project will then be disseminated through conferences papers, training seminars, academic articles and books, as well as popular publications and an open access on-line archive. Which is why we are about to publish the Archaeology for All monograph which contains examples of community archaeology practice from around Britain and elsewhere on the globe. In the meantime the eighth Dig Greater Manchester community excavation begins on the 30th September at Buile Hill Park in Salford.

 1) Nevell M, 2013, ‘Archaeology for All: Managing Expectations and Learning from the Past for the Future – the Dig Manchester Community Archaeology Experience’, in Dalglesh C, (ed.), Archaeology, the Public and the Recent Past. Society for Post-Medieval Archaeology, London.

DGM 2012 Part 3: Stockport

A range of the Minton floor tiles excavated at Wood Hall in October 2012

A range of the Minton floor tiles excavated at Wood Hall in October 2012

In October the DGM team arrived in Stockport to excavate the site of Wood Hall and its farm. Wood Hall lies 1.5km north of the modern town centre of Stockport, on the first terrace above the western bank of the River Tame. It encompassed two sites; the house known as Wood Hall and the adjacent Wood Hall Farm. There was even a reference to the hall 1501/2, suggesting that it might be medieval origin.

The site had already been evaluated through test-pitting by volunteers from the South Manchester Archaeological Research Team led by Norman Redhead in April 2012. In one day they dug seven test-pits and discovered brick walls and floors. So, in October 2012 DGM came back for a 14-day stint to explore the site further. In that time a variety of community groups and individuals took part in the excavations including: 102 adult volunteers; 280 school Stockport school children from 10 schools; eight Stockport ‘A’ level students; 19 graduate and post-graduates; seven special groups; and 237 visitors on the open day.

This particular site highlighted one of the three key research areas for the project: the archaeology of industrialisation, and, within that, charting the industrial transition though its material culture.

There was no sign of the Medieval Hall, and no hint that it was close by. The current site seems to have been founded in the 18th century. Extensive brick and stone foundations were uncovered for the hall farmhouse and its associated barn range to the west. These dated to the late 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. The hall was a double-depth, central staircase, plan house popular with freeholders and used for the richer sort of farmhouse in the 18th century, and popular with the growing middle-class of the 19th century.

The earliest evidence uncovered by the dig was clay pipes from the 17th century (tobacco was a new form of consumer good/vice at the time). The large number of clay pipe fragments ran into the 19th century. Here was evidence of the growing global trade network of this period; the clay pipes themselves were made in the region (Chester has an early kiln from the late 17th century, and Manchester pipe kilns by the 18th century) but the tobacco was imported from plantations in the West Indies and elsewhere.

There was also a large amount of industrial pottery from the late 18th to the early 20th centuries. This included large numbers of earthenware, black-glazed, storage jars, perhaps from the Buckley potteries in north-east Wales and the rapidly developing Staffordshire potteries of the 18th and early 19th centuries. Domestic wares took the form of white transfer-printed bowls, plates and dishes, and a few pieces of China (cups and saucers), probably from Staffordshire rather than overseas. There were also bottles and storage jars stamped with local trader’s names (H Clark of Stockport for instance). Most surprising were the highly decorated glazed floor tiles, manufactured by Minton, of Stoke-on-Trent. These were of floral and geometric designs and motifs typical of the art-nouveau period of the late 19th century, and were found around some of the fireplaces but also stacked up on the cellar steps. Perhaps the latter had been put aside for salvage during the mid-20th century demolition but were forgotten about at the last moment?

It’s from such everyday items that the local, national, and international networks of the industrial period can be traced and mapped.

DGM 2012 Part 2: Oldham

Members of the Chadderton History Society who took part in the dig in 2012.

Members of the Chadderton Historical Society who took part in the dig in 2012.

In September 2012 the third DGM evaluation excavation came to Chadderton Hall Park in Oldham: and the site of Chadderton Hall, a building whose origins lie in the Medieval period. Volunteers, school children, and members of the local historical society spent nearly two weeks uncovering the rather grand stone and brick foundations of the mid-18th century hall. This was a four storey building with projecting western and eastern wings linked by a columned portico.
   It is possible there may have been a manor house close to this site in the late 13th century, when Chadderton first emerges in the documentary record. During that century Richard de Trafford divided his estates and gave Chadderton to his younger son Geoffrey, who took the name de Chadderton after the place. The manor later passed by marriage to a branch of the Radcliffe family and in the mid-15th century was divided between the three daughters of Richard Radcliffe. One of these daughters, Joan, married Edmund Assheton of Ashton-under-Lyne and the Asshetons held this share of the manor until the late 17th century, with Chadderton Hall as their main residence. In 1684 the Hall was bought by Joshua Horton of Sowerby in Yorkshire who made it his home. His descendants retained possession until the 19th century, when it was sold to the Lees family and began its decline in status and condition that eventually led to it being demolished in 1939. The later uses of the hall included a ‘Boarding School for Young Ladies’ until 1860, then as a boarding school for boys, and afterwards as a menagerie and a pickle factory.
   The walls and floor surfaces encountered represented the second hall on the site, this one built in the mid-18th by the Horton family. There were hints of the earlier hall on the site in the form of re-used stone ridge tiles, a couple of stone wall foundations that did not fit the plan of the mid-18th century hall, a few sherds of yellow-glazed ware and a pipe bowl that are both late 17th or very early 18th century in date. What impressed, though, was the scale of the remains the DGM volunteers revealed, from the huge ashlar blocks of the main, southern, facade, to the cellars at the rear of the property, where the valley escarpment ran. This was clearly a building designed to impress, not just at the front with its portico facing a formal courtyard that included a gateway and landscaping, but also the position of the hall on the valley edge to the rear, allowing it to dominate this part of Chadderton.
   This site is an interesting addition to our growing evidence of the way in which the communities of the Manchester city region responded to the process industrialisation. In this case the classical mansion of the Horton family contrasts with the smaller, vernacular, buildings of the adjacent Chadderton Hall Fold, where domestic spinning and weaving of cotton was undertaken.

DGM 2012 Part 1: Radcliffe

Visitors to the Radcliffe DGM open day in July 2012 - one of the few times we saw the sun in 2012!

Visitors to the Radcliffe DGM open day in July 2012 – one of the few times we saw the sun in 2012!

With Dig Greater Manchester well into its second year (and community digs in Manchester, Salford and Rochdale looming) we thought we would take the opportunity to bring you the highlights from last year’s four community digs. So, over the next two weeks we will be posting blogs on each.

In July 2012 DGM came to Radcliffe in Bury: to be precise, the area between Radcliffe’s two oldest buildings – the 15th century Radcliffe Tower and the 15th century parish church.
   During the first two weeks of July the remains of a row of seven cottages were excavated on the southern side of Church Street (formerly Church Row). These cottages were built in the mid-19th century and demolished in the mid-20th century so had a life-span of around 100 years. More than 170 volunteers and 290 children helped to reveal the outline of each cottage and its backyard. These were small brick dwellings, with in most cases just a single living room on the ground floor with a fireplace. Most of the rear yards also had an outhouse with a toilet which in each case produced dozens of small pieces of Victorian pottery.
   It was whilst the backyard of the eastern cottage, No. 200, was being dug that a small bronze oval token was discovered amongst some late Victorian pottery and clay pipes. Roughly 20mm by 30mm, one side had an image of a lady and the other some flowers with a star. Around the edge of one side of the token was the inscription ‘Congregation of the Children of Mary’, indicating that it belonged to a Catholic.
   The Congregation was founded as a result of a series of visions experienced by St Catherine Laboure in 1830, and was a lay order. At first it was open to the girls who were students or orphans in the care of The Sisters of Charity.1 Girls and young women in the society were encouraged to live holy lives in the everyday world by embracing the virtues of sacrifice, prayer and works of charity. In 1876 membership was extended to include all young people, boys and girls, and a version of the society survives into the early 21st century. Newly joined individuals would be given a bronze or silver medallion as a sign of membership, on which to inscribe their name and the date they joined.
   The Radcliffe token is a typical example of a Children of Mary medallion. The obverse side of the medallion shows an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary with ‘rays of grace’ that emanate from the rings she wares. A motto ‘monstra te esse matrem’ (show thyself a mother), can be seen around the edge and is a phrase taken from the 9th century devotional hymn ‘Ave Maris Stella’ (Hail, Star of the Sea).
   The reverse shows the Ave Maria monogram with lilies and a star above. The inscription ‘Congregation of the Children of Mary’ runs around the edge, and there is a panel for the member’s name. Sadly the Radcliffe name panel was blank – perhaps it had been worn away?
   Radcliffe in the late 19th century and early 20th century was a diverse town. Living in the streets close by during the 1890s and 1900s were Dutch, Irish, and Welsh, although the majority of the inhabitants of this growing cotton town were born in Lancashire. The census returns for Church Row/Street show that all the inhabitants of the seven cottages were Lancashire-born. Who, then, was the owner of the medallion? It might be one of the Morgan family recorded living at No. 200 in the 1891 and 1901 censuses, but we can’t be sure. This object was certainly a highly personal item for a young adult, probably a girl, living at the end of the 19th century. Such a personal religious item is a highly unusual discovery from houses of this period in the Manchester region, and how it came to be lost or thrown away in the backyard is unknown. Archaeology can only take us so far in revealing the history of an object, even one from the recent past.

1) St Catherine Laboure’s religious order.

Manchester’s History Festival Celebration Day

We recently took part in the Festival, manning a stall promoting the Centre.

People were encouraged to handle finds and sign up to Dig Greater Manchester sites. We had really good feedback on the day and got over 100 volunteers signed up for future digs.

Here are Sarah, Vicky and Charly manning the stall.Image