The Unacceptable Faces of History – Gargoyles and Grotesques

We have an ongoing project in Tameside which involves the recording of gargoyles and grotesques on our ancient buildings. Work was carried out some time ago on Ashton Parish Church, for instance, and more recently we have been scaling the heights of the C15th bell tower at St Michael and All Angels in Mottram.

Thankfully, we haven’t really had to learn free climbing or abseiling and it is quite remarkable what can be achieved with out-sized, home-made selfie sticks.

The two pictures  below give a flavour of the faces that have been waiting all this time to greet us. Is it significant that the one with a smile on its face has survived better than the other?


Happy Chappy Grotesque

Poorly Corbel. Cheer up, old chap! We haven’t forgotten you, anyway.





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We held our very first conference on the work of TAS on 29th February 2020.

The venue was St John’s Church, Dukinfield, or more precisely their excellent Church Centre, a modern, well-equipped building that managed to host at least three other activities at the same time as affording us ample space in a very pleasant environment. Our thanks to the Church for their warm and generous hospitality.

It was heartening to see such a good response to the event, with people coming not only from the world of archaeology, but from local history groups, family history groups and no doubt some who came merely with a sense of curiosity; that and the conviction that our talks would be a better bet than mixing it with Storm Jorge!

On the agenda was a diverse range of talks, including a guided archaeological tour of the church over the lunch period, conducted by our own Chris Jones.

The range of subjects gave everyone a fair idea of the breadth of our work, from churchyard surveys, through historic graffiti collection to digs both “modern” and prehistoric. Delphine Wright, a member of the Church, started us off with a talk about the graveyard survey carried out at St John’s itself. This was of particular interest to those of us who enjoy family and social history. Some of the insights were fascinating.

Ellen McInnes, one of our members but also someone heavily involved with the North West Historic Graffiti Survey, talked about the work of TAS at St Michael and All Angels, Mottram where, as regular readers will know, we have been surveying the graffiti and passing the information on to the NWHGS.  We learned that such surveys could not only contribute to wider data collection and a growing understanding of the significance of historic graffiti, but also link with other studies in family, local or broader social history.

Before lunch, Mike Nevell gave us an overview of the Dig Greater Manchester Project, with specific reference to the work undertaken in Cheetham Park, Stalybridge and the involvement of TAS. Since the initial excavation, TAS members have been back on a number of occasions to carry out community digs which have been enjoyed by enthusiasts  of all ages.

The afternoon kicked off with Ron Cowell of Liverpool Museums giving us a fascinating presentation on our dig at Iron Tongue, above Stalybridge (well, it’s above a lot of places, really). Ron explained how our work had contributed to a fuller understanding of mesolithic activity, and in particular the relationship between lowland and upland activity in this period.

Next up, Ben Dyson of Archaeological Research Services gave us an insight into the work of a professional archaeologist via his company’s evaluation and excavation of Taylor Bros hatting factory in Denton. Although much of the original site had been obliterated by the Oldham Batteries works, a great deal could still be gleaned. Of much interest were two Lancashire boiler beds, the flue system, a steam engine bed and a well that had been used to supply the boilers with clean water.

The final item on the programme concerned one of our biggest and most important projects – our excavation of a site in the Mottram area that shows evidence of occupation across the mesolithic and early neolithic periods. Kevin Wright of TAS uncovered lots of detail about our dig, the finds and the work that has been done since to provide dates for the site’s use. As ever with such projects, you can end up feeling like there are more questions than answers; but when you started with no answers and didn’t even know that the questions were waiting to be unearthed – much has been achieved.

Thank you to all who contributed – St John’s Church,  TAS members, our speakers – but mostly all those who came along and filled the Centre not only physically but with their interest.


Our guests enjoying one of the talks at the TAS Conference


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Digging in Tameside

We shall be very pleased if you join us for our conference “Digging In Tameside” at St John’s Church, Dukinfield on Saturday 29th February 2020.

We have a splendid line-up of speakers to give a range of talks on some of the archaeology we have investigated locally in recent years. It should be a very interesting day and we look forward to welcoming friends old and new. Fuller details below.

To download and fill in a copy of the form in Word, please CLICK HERE 

If you have difficulty accessing the form, please contact us via the Interested/Training drop down menu.

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Heritage Open Weekend

This was a weekend on which the small village of Mottram in Longdendale was alive with excitement. Not only did it have the thrill of seeing the Tour of Britain cycle race pass through, but anyone visiting St Michael and All Angels would have had the additional delights of a lovely church and the presence of TAS members looking for and talking about historic graffiti.

We managed to collect a number of new images, which are now being catalogued, and we enjoyed meeting visitors to our display. Some were familiar faces and some were new, but all were welcome. We explained about some of the graffiti we had found at the church and how our findings could feed into regional and national projects.

As ever, we are grateful to the church for allowing us to join them on their open weekend.

Below we see pictured Carol and John in the process of collecting graffiti images. Honest. There is no truth in the rumour that John had just been discovered having a quiet kip in one of the rear pews!

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Festival Fun

Last weekend saw yet another Festival of Archaeology and as our contribution we continued our exploration of Cheetham Park in Stalybridge as we try to re-discover the structural features of Eastwood House.

The weather stayed fine and we welcomed a steady stream of visitors – some who simply wanted to ask what we were up to (there’s always someone who suspects we are laying foundations for a new housing estate!); some whose dogs bark at us indignantly because we’re digging where THEY wanted to dig; and a great many who are intrigued by the story of the house – quite a lot of whom find themselves rolling up their sleeves and getting down in the trench to do a bit for themselves.

Of course, the delight for us is in the young people who might be picking up a trowel for the very first time, and who come running to us with their shards of pottery and half bricks, excited to know what they’ve found.

Their absorption in the task and their wonder at their finds is often matched by surprising alertness and understanding. One little girl had an amazing grasp of the different qualities in the materials she was digging out.

Certainly our best find of the weekend was a glazed stoneware drainage pipe that would have been put in place when Eastwood House was built around 1830. It is a mottled dark brown colour with a creamy white clay matrix with minute black inclusions. It measures 0.2m in diameter and was located below the level of the front wall, but above the cellars. It connected to a small brick stack within the wall base, which had a vertical void within the bricks above, possibly there for the purpose of inspection. The drainage pipe connected via the brick stack to a smaller bore clay pipe of approximately 0.12m which lined up with the frontage of the house.

Obviously, we’d like to know more. For instance, who manufactured the pipe and is there a corresponding date of production? Were these pipes of a standard design being constructed within the building to hide the roof drains?

If anyone can answer those questions please do get in touch.

Meanwhile, we can look back on another successful event in the knowledge that there are enthusiastic and intelligent young diggers out there ready to take archaeology forward. The past has a future.

Exterior of the stoneware drain.

They banned little children going up chimneys, but nobody said anything about drains. (Just kidding – honest!)

A mum and her children enjoying a new activity together.

Really getting down to it.


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From Tombs to Towers

We get some interesting requests to carry out geophysical surveys and last week saw two good examples.

The first was in a local churchyard where someone had noticed a great disparity between the number of burials recorded and the number of graves evident. Of course, this is to be expected in any churchyard, where only a minority of parishioners could have afforded to erect a monument that would last (these graves dated from the early 1840s). In addition, we know that grave sites were re-used. Nevertheless, there were areas of this churchyard that appeared never to have been used at all and we were asked to investigate what lay beneath – maybe obvious signs of graves – maybe evidence of some earlier building structure. Unfortunately the results were inconclusive, with the large number of gravestone lying on the ground making it very difficult to get good readings.

The second took us much further afield – to Hoghton Tower, near Preston. This is a fortified manor house that originally dates from about the C12th, but the present building is C16th with a lot of renovation and addition carried out in the C19th. Before this the house had suffered some neglect. More interestingly, it had been subject to a siege by Parliamentary forces during the Civil War, as a result of which the old peel tower was destroyed.

A Castle Studies Trust grant is enabling an architectural survey in an attempt to better understand the Elizabethan structure of the building.

The University of Salford’s Centre for Applied Archaeology has been given the brief to carry out a dig, and we, in turn, have been asked to do some geophys in advance of that work. Here we had clear readings that should contribute to the ongoing project.

We just about got away with it weather-wise in what is turning out to be a pretty soggy summer for people working in the field!

Part of the building as it exists today.

John carrying out the resistivity survey.

A member of staff from Hoghton Tower tries her hand at some geophys.


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A Lucky Find

We were out at our neolithic site digging a test pit to explore a feature found in our original dig. As is the case with these things, the failure to find what you’re looking for is not altogether a negative result.  It is information that contributes to the bigger picture. Sure enough, we failed to find the feature we were looking for.

However, in the process a lovely little find came to hand, the gorgeous flint thumbnail scraper pictured below.  One of the thrills of this kind of find is knowing that the last person to hold it could have lost or discarded it  5000 years ago or more.

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Still Waters Run Deep

Actually, the waters that have covered Lunt Meadows at various times in the last seven and a half  millennia have not always been still; nor have they been particularly deep. But, crucially, they have been there; and they have preserved beneath them secrets that have only been revealed in the last few years.

An excavation led by Ron Cowell, Curator of Prehistoric Archaeology at the Museum of Liverpool, has discovered evidence of a mesolithic settlement dating from at least 8000 years ago. In fact, a number of features seem to suggest that this was a well-organised dwelling site that had been used over a considerable period of time, although probably seasonally, rather than continuously.

We went over to the museum recently where Ron showed us how a special app that had been created for the project was able to bring the site “to life”, and better help us to appreciate some of the finds.

In addition to what the site tells us about mesolithic settlements, there were a number of instances where stones had been placed deliberately in what may have been some expression of belief. Interpretation can only be tentative at present, but these finds could, in time, prove to be a significant contribution to our understanding of mesolithic culture.

Later, Ron took us out to Lunt Meadows where he explained more about the context and showed us how the layers of fresh water clay and then marine clay had built up, effectively sealing the site until they began to uncover it in 2012.  Not only had the water helped to preserve the site from later use and deterioration, but those additional layers of clay acted as a shield against the ploughs that would have cut through the subsequently formed topsoil.

A fascinating day, made all the better by an expert guide, excellent company and a rather nice walk.

A plan of the site

This shows the fairly deep accumulation of topsoil and then the grey layer of marine clay, from the salt water marsh, beneath it. Below that there is a layer of fresh water clay before the mesolithic “floor”. On the top, you can see a selection of prehistoric finds in the form of TAS members.

Ron explaining the layering.

The use of photogrammetry and a QR code enables visitors to the museum to spin 3D images of the finds for better inspection.

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Sometimes the strain of recording finds can get to the best of us.

Photographing the stones from our neolithic site affected one of the team so badly that he had to seek help (see pictures below).

But at least it shows that we have an active youth recruitment policy!

Come on now, Tommy! No sitting down on the job!

Do Health and Safety know about this?

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Hard Evidence

Last autumn Ann Clark took away for analysis 200 stones from our recently dug site in the upper areas of Tameside.  Carbon dating had already been carried out on samples from this site, putting it at late mesolithic/early neolithic.

These stones have now been returned with the news that 40 of them provide evidence of occupation around the neolithic period.

This is very exciting, of course, because it makes our site the only known, permanently occupied, neolithic site in the north west.

A full report is being drawn up and is presently being illustrated.

Below, an anvil stone – obviously aware of its sudden rise to the surface and to fame – poses for the camera. The second picture shows more clearly the pecking that provides evidence of working by an early Tamesider about 5000 years ago.

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