Home About the society Society news Transactions Offprints Events New publications Links

The Lancashire and Cheshire                
Antiquarian Society

Founded 1883

Charity Registration No 1105708

search engine by freefind advanced


The Society arranged this Day School for 12 May 2018, the venue being the Masonic Hall in Sale, and the programme offering four talks on the difficulties of recording, researching, and producing coherent descriptions of, industrial sites in the present day context of developer- led archaeology involving very tight time schedules. All four demonstrated how vital is the need for a concentrated focus, even if somewhat scrappy, but hugely important, material is to be retrieved and added to an over-all picture. Material can disappear so quickly. There can be no letting up! And there is no room for sentimentalism.

The scheduled speaker Ann Hearle, due to talk on 'Early water powered textile mills of Mellor and Marple', had been taken ill; however, the Chairman of Mellor Archaeological Trust, Mr Bob Humphrey-Taylor, was able to take her place. He explained that several early mills built to take advantage of the strong currents of streams that flow into the River Goyt were fairly humble and had relatively short lives. The contrast between these and the imposing mill built on the Goyt by Samuel Oldknow could hardly be greater; Joseph Parry's painting of it can be viewed in Marple Library. Fires, however, destroyed Oldknow's mill, which in due course became overgrown; indeed until the first decade of C21 there was no 'above ground' trace of his massive 'statement'.  M.A.T. members and volunteers, however, carried out research and extensive excavation has exposed a substantial mill-related and Oldknow-related landscape.                                                

Against the background of Mellor's impressive archaeological sites and finds (Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Romano-British and Medieval), the Mellor Archaeological Trust joined with the Canal River Trust and submitted detailed plans for a small country park linked with this local heritage; and the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded a grant to support the work and the publicising of this area's important more recent local history. Now this Trust is the leading UK site taking part in a European Project whose aim is to make surveys and studies of selected sites in order to note and record how climate change, natural processes and human actions have made an impact on cultural heritage sites, in the hope of protecting such sites from future adverse effects.

Ian Miller followed on with his clear and impelling outline of a tour de force produced by all involved. We have all heard of buildings being placed on the 'At Risk' register produced by English Heritage, now Historic England; but it was fascinating to learn from Ian exactly how the actual process leading to such a status came into being with regard to mills; and it's a story of 'not all that long ago'!

The mid-1980s saw three surveys of known mills in Greater Manchester, East Cheshire and West Yorkshire; publication of three books resulted. For some of those mills still surviving that led to designations. However, even between 2000 and 2010, planning permission involving demolition of mills was fairly often given the 'go ahead'. Councils which were subsequently berated, however, could justifiably claim that there was in existence no database on which they could evaluate mills involved in planning applications placed before them.

Consequently, English Heritage and a band of archaeologists began to work on this dearth, aiming to construct such a reliable guide. The result has given shape and impetus to a vital process affecting our heritage.

When closely focused on, the range of factors to be considered proved to be remarkably wide. The production of far more than cotton was involved, so mills varied greatly. Mills in the North West turned out wool, fustian, silk, jute, oilcloth and rayon, for example; and mill processes could include preparing, spinning, weaving, finishing, bleaching, and dyeing - factors affecting building design. Surveys showed that some disused mills still housed their historic machinery - a very special resource not to be lost. In formulating a database, the first stage in research therefore was a rapid assessment. While 1661 sites were noted, only 541 still survived. How to evaluate the latter was the focus of Stage 2. Presenting criteria for classification was a great challenge. Some, but not all, were reasonably problem-free, e.g. importance (local? in county/area? national?; and low? medium? high? Had the presence of the mill led to surviving industrial settlement?); but some interesting subtleties emerged (occupancy: vacant/part- occupied/occupied/ responsibly occupied). Dots on maps showed some mills whose siting posed problems of access and security. How can a preserved historic building be of value to the public's education and pleasure if it is hard to reach? How can it be made secure?

Throughout his talk Ian sustained a steady supply of excellent photographic illustrations which cogently emphasised all the aspects he presented. The task facing the team had clearly been far from a straightforward matter; but councils could no longer claim to be 'in the dark', once it had been completed!  

Dr Mike Nevell opened our day's after-lunch session, speaking on the canal corridor from Worsley to Altrincham of the Bridgewater Canal.

Work on constructing the Bridgewater Canal began in 1759 and the first stretch was opened in 1761, since which time the canal has had a history of 257 years of continuous use. However, over forty miles of the canal lie underground at the Worsley end; surviving plans record interesting features (e.g. an underground inclined plane created in 1790 allowed an existing waterway and the canal to be linked) but archaeological examination of such features is not possible. Mike has walked long stretches of the canal, vigilant for surviving canal-related features, and this concentrated study has resulted in the discovery of important sites, such as a long stretch of embankment of a related aqueduct, whose close study revealed, among other things, a substantial number of marks akin to masons' marks, of which a list of sixteen types was drawn up. Survey work of recent years has focused on canal-related features such as Worsley Delph, and lime kilns dated c.1760-1780. Other finds of importance include key overflow points linked with the weir on the River Cornbrook, some water-powered canal boats, and one of the mine boats linked with the Bridgewater Canal. Broadheath Warehouse (c.1830s) was surveyed in 2011 but many similar 'treasures' have been lost. Here two storeys of a canal warehouse (c.1767-1770) survive, along with what is clearly a tunnel entrance and a loading bay; the site, however, is not protected.

Mike showed us a wealth of photographs presenting plans, sites and finds, and his probing talk certainly whetted our anticipation of the imminent publication of his revised book on the Bridgewater Canal.

John Roberts brought our day's programme to a close.

His talk highlighted aspects of urban archaeology which challenged the team of archaeologists charged with 'keeping up with' the building of the Ordsall Chord Railway and its Bridge in Manchester. Photographs of plans and old maps set the scene for the modern work, which might have thrown light on a possible vicus outside the Roman fort or hinted at a road system resulting from the building of the fort; the conclusion drawn in fact was that the road system that grew up seemed to exploit the advantages which the Romans had brought; another conclusion drawn from close study of these old maps was that George Stephenson's railway line crossing demonstrated that the new railways did not replace canals - the two co-existed.

This Ordsall rail project had led to controversy, of course, including the removal of two bridges that were listed (see Wikipedia). The archaeology team had to operate within tight time restrictions (replacement bridges were installed very quickly), so much so that it is felt essential that any further development must be preceded by full and proper archaeological survey. John's team from the University of Salford carried out 24 evaluations and 31 watching briefs; and eight listed buildings were recovered; and his audience greatly appreciated the fullness with which his talk was illustrated.

A highlight for the team had been to see 'G.S.' revealed on the keystone of the up-river side of Stephenson's iconic bridge, opened in 1830, and Listed Grade 1. It was a reminder that a railway bridge can hold great significance in our architectural heritage, and demands respect if listed.

Margaret Edwards