DGM Archaeology Festival: Hunting for Ancient Graffiti

Ordsall Hall May 2012 WEA visit (12)

The late medieval Ordsall Hall – still giving up its secrets


The first Dig Greater Manchester Archaeology Festival in June 2017 had two events linked to the comparatively new research area of medieval and later graffiti. Such research looks at mysterious marks on historic buildings such as circles, daisy wheels, crossed ‘V’s, lines grouped in threes, and many other devices.


In the last decade renewed focus on these ancient marks in the late medieval churches of East Anglia has led to a recognition that such graffiti and protection marks are far more common than previously thought. Sometimes they cluster around the location of old alters but are usually found by doorways and windows. Importantly, such marks provide an alternative way of look at the beliefs and worries of ordinary people in otherwise more formal and controlled spaces.

Recent research is now focusing on domestic buildings and in the North West the timber structures of the 14th to 18th centuries are proving a fruitful source of evidence. The Greater Manchester Graffiti Survey team have been studying a variety of timber-framed halls across Manchester with some surprising results. Ordsall Hall in Salford, for instance, is covered in dozens of protection marks such as circles, but especially taper burns, which leave a burn mark in the shape of an elongated leaf. Indeed, this appears to be the most common form of mark found on the timber-framed buildings of the region. Intriguingly, leaving a the cross by or above doorways using the ashes from Ash Wednesday is still a feature of Greek Orthodox ritual at Easter time.

The Greater Manchester Graffiti Survey team continued their exploration of Ordsall Hall for the festival. Ordsall is one of the hidden gems of northern England’s medieval archaeology: a moated manor house set within the industrial and urban sprawl of late 19th and 20th century Salford that survives with its 14th century solar wing, early 16th century great hall and mid-17th century brick wing. The cross-passage and servant’s wings have yielded dozens of taper burns.

Hall i'th' Wood 20

Hall i’ th’ Wood, Bolton

The Bolton Archaeological and Eqyptology Society (http://www.boltonaes.co.uk/) continued their exploration of Hall i’ th’ Wood on the Saturday of the festival. This research began earlier in 2017 and once more taper burns feature as an important part of the protection and graffiti marks observed. Yet recently they have discovered taper burns on some of the contemporary furniture  in the hall (though much is not from Hall i’ th’ Wood itself). This has also been noted on the Tudor bed at Ordsall Hall, which was commissioned by the Radcliffe family for that very building.



DGM Archaeology Festival: The Historic Pubs of Altrincham


The Old Market Tavern, formerly the Unicorn PH, Altrincham Old Market Place

The first ever Dig Greater Manchester Archaeology Festival has 17 FREE events to choose from. The festival kicked off on Thursday 22 June with a tour of the historic pubs of Altrincham run by the South Trafford Archaeology Group (www.stag-archaeology.uk).


The walk is based on the inns, taverns and public houses mentioned in Pigot & Co.’s Commercial Directory of 1822-1823 for Altrincham, before the character of the town and the location of its commercial centre were altered by the arrival of the railway in 1849. Meeting outside the Orange Tree in the Old Market Place (WA14 4DE) at 6pm the two hour tour will take in, amongst other pub sites, the Unicorn (the former town hall of 1849), the Axe and Cleaver (late 18th century), the Wheatsheaf (late 18th or early 19th century), and the Orange Tree, which contains timber-framing from the 16th and early 17th centuries.

Altrincham was given its charter as a market borough in 1290. This market town sits on the northern flank of Bowdon Hill, with the market place terraced into the hillside. Even today the building plots surrounding the old market place reflect the long, narrow, burgages of the late medieval town. Although the placename suggests a late Saxon origin nothing earlier that 14th century has been found. However, Saxon activity was excavated on the site of Timperley Old Hall, roughly 1km to the east, by STAG in the 1990s.

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Excavation behind No 6 Old market Place, Altrincham by UMAU in 2004

STAG have been investigating the Old Market Place since the early 1980s, when they undertook test pitting with GMAU in the town fields to the north-west. In the mid-1984s a late medieval corn drying kiln was excavated off Victoria Street. During the 1990s watching brief work revealed medieval rubbish pits behind the buildings on Market Street, whilst a building survey with the local WEA class recorded half a dozen timber-framed buildings. In the 2000s, a developer-funded excavation behind No.6 Market Place revealed a late medieval burgage property ditch. A flavour of the old market atmosphere can still be got in the Orange Tree, with its timber-framing, brick barrel vaulted cellars and ghost (allegedly).