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.



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