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.

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