Is This An Agger That I See Before Me?

A few months ago someone drew our attention to some lidar images of an area on the Stalybridge and Hyde border. There appeared to be an anomaly that was interpreted as possibly an agger, i.e. raised earthwork that, given its linear appearance, could have been evidence of a Roman road.

The most accessible section was fortunately owned by Tameside and the council readily gave us permission to carry out some geophysical research.

Work is ongoing , using both a magnetometer and a resistivity meter, to try to find further evidence to back the theory.

Such surveys requires a lot of painstaking work. The equipment can only be employed after a lot of careful measuring, marking out and setting up. The data is later fed through software that produces images which can then be interpreted by the team.

It may well be that no further evidence will be found and that it was a false lead. However, this does not mean that the work was a waste of time, as knowing what is not there is sometimes as valuable as knowing what is.

The pictures show some of the team at work one sunny Sunday morning.

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Once More Unto The Bleach

An eagle-eyed TAS member recently stepped into the breach when noticing a partially collapsed wall at the stone bleaching baths on Hodge Lane in Broadbottom. On this occasion it was not to storm and conquer, but to relieve the siege that Time lays at our precious heritage.

“These large stone vats or baths were part of the Hodge textile works. They date from the late 1700s and are probably the earliest known textile site in Tameside. Each one of the baths is made from giant stone slabs joined together by iron stays. They are about six feet deep. Grey cloth would have been bleached with lime to make it white, and then laid out in the fields to dry. There are 3 groups of baths. They are terraced into the hillside and arranged in rows on either side of a deep central tunnel which is covered by stone slabs in places and earth in others. Of the 3 groups one has 30 baths; one of 6 or more and one of 14 or more.” (Historic England)

The internal wall would have supported a flagged pathway that existed between two lines of large vats. These had been excavated in the 1980s by the University of Manchester Archaeology Unit, headed by Dr Michael Nevell. We got in touch with Dr Nevell, now the Industrial Heritage Support Officer for England, and he was able to confirm that the wall was still intact when surveyed by UMAU in 2005.

TAS then contacted English Heritage to notify them of the changes to the bleaching baths, and subsequently the local council, who have actioned an evaluation of the site.

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Testing Times

For the first time in sixteen months we have been able to take up our mattocks, spades and trowels again, but for the time being at least under closely observed protocols.

It felt good to cut the turf on this fresh test pit, but that could only happen when negative covid tests had been returned and by changing our working methods so that social distance could be maintained. This is not just a question of keeping two metres apart, but also giving careful thought to the equipment brought on site and its use by individuals. No doubt after a while this will become second nature, and in the meantime we shall have the pleasure of returning to the work we love on sunny mornings such as these. And hopefully the test pits won’t be returning negative results!

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Getting Back In The Swing

As we begin to look forward to getting back in the field we are initiating a series of refresher sessions for when we eventually come out of lockdown.

It WILL happen – honest!

The first is this Thursday, via our new friend Zoom and concerns basic drawings and associated contexts. Good for newcomers and also for those of us who have simply forgotten what a field looks like.

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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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Digging In Tameside

We should be very pleased if you were to join us at our conference at St John’s Church, Dukinfield on Saturday February 29th next year. We have a strong line-up of speakers for a range of talks covering some of the work we have been doing in Tameside in recent years. The poster below gives fuller details. Hope to see you there!

 

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TAS CONFERENCE 2020

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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