Research on and recording of the archaeological remains of the agricultural industry has been extensive since 2006 and not just confined to data gathered through the commercial sector. Such research is focused primarily on the standing structures of the agricultural industry. Of high significance is a major review of the regional character of historic farmsteads in England, undertaken by English Heritage between 2004 and 2015 and the assessment framework published in 2015 (Lake 2015). The North West England regional report was published in 2006 and this provides a good overview of the major agricultural building types that survive in the region, as well as the sub-regional characteristics, from farmstead types, to crop storage and processing, and animal and animal products’ buildings (Lake, Edwards, Wade Martins & Deadman 2006). Earlier studies concentrated on just particular estates or areas of the region but this document provides a key overview of the building types within the North West.
These documents are particularly useful in providing a framework for study since the conversion of agricultural buildings has continued since 2006, and such structures across the region consistently show evidence for the re-use of timber from earlier buildings and the rebuilding of agricultural structures on earlier sites. One notable hotspot of area of redevelopment has been rural Lancashire. Many of these buildings at first glance appear to date from the 18th and 19th centuries, especially barns, although often, closer study reveals a more complex history. Whilst individual studies may not be in themselves striking, there is a large volume of grey literature now available for synthesis. Such a study might answer whether it is worth continuing to record such structures; whether there are other agricultural building types that should be targeted; is the recording level appropriate and are the standards and recording levels adhered to; and what do these records tell us about the detailed character Lancashire building resource? A useful example of the way in which such material might be used is a study of Lancashire dairy cattle and their buildings (Grundy 2015). If more synthesis were to take place, long-held distribution patterns for specific building types might be tested. For example, the late eighteenth or early nineteenth-century bank barn (or at least a hybrid) at Stoneleach Farm, Wrightington (L), lies far beyond the traditional predominantly Cumbrian distribution (Neil 2002). The temporal and spatial distribution of rarer features such as bull pens, corn holes, such as at Latus Hall barn, Inglewhite (L) (Neil in Ponsford 2001, 169) and the various styles of pigsty / hen house, also merit study.
Other fieldwork and research on agricultural landscapes has included the location on the River Esk in Cumbria of an 18th and 19th century fish weir at Drigg (C), where the timber uprights formed a lattice across estuary with evidence of a wattle walkway to one side of uprights. Wider research into the lowland landscapes of Cumbria has included a study of lowland improvement through grazing and drainage (Davis & Davis 2013).
Several rural water-powered corn mills have been excavated, or earlier results published. These include, within Greater Manchester, the cornmill site at Northenden, which functioned until the mid-20th century (Bell 2009), whilst Norbury Mill in Stockport was further excavated as part of a road-building programme. Both projects focused upon the power systems and wheelpits of the mills. Elsewhere a building survey of the Nether Alderley Mill, near Alderley Edge (Ch) for the National Trust (a building whose structure spans the 16th to 20th centuries but which was extensively rebuilt around 1746; Matrix Archaeology 2012) recorded the in situ surviving power systems and milling machinery, dating from the mid-19th century. Restoration work at the 18th century Heron Corn Mill, Beetham in southern Cumbria, during 2013 and 2014 involved a detailed record of the power systems. The survival of contemporary water power systems and milling machinery is now very rare in the corn mills of the region and largely confined to sites run as museums, as is the case with these latter two mill buildings.