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.