The Updated Research Framework

This resource was developed as part of a national strategy to create a series of self-sustaining regional historic environment research frameworks for England. It builds on the original North West Region Archaeological Research Framework which was published in 2006 and 2007 in two volumes: Resource Assessment and Objectives. Since then a large number of projects have taken place which have a bearing on the framework. These, together with changes in the way the resource is managed and the advancement of new analytical techniques, led to Historic England funding an update of the Research Framework. But there are key differences for this updated version: it is called the North West Regional Research Framework for the Historic Environment to reflect a greater engagement with the historic built environment, and has been transformed into an interactive, updatable and sustainable web-based resource.

The update Research Framework has been prepared in collaboration with stakeholders from across the historic environment spectrum under the guidance of a Steering Group comprising regional, period and subject specialists (see Appendix). In its new form, the Research Framework comprises:

  • updated period-based resource assessments representing the current state of knowledge of the historic environment in the North West of England
  • research questions organised by period and themes
  • measures for advancing knowledge and understanding set out as supporting statements and research strategies
  • a comprehensive bibliography and list of online sources.

The Research Framework can be used to:

  • help define research questions and strategies in project designs submitted to research funding bodies
  • prepare Written Schemes of Investigation in support of the planning process
  • provide background information for use during research and analysis

Project Methodology

The first stage of the project was to compile an updated resource assessment that aimed to aimed to supplement the dataset collated in 2006, rather than supersede the earlier work. This consisted of a review by period specialists of key projects and research findings from the last eleven years, covering the period from 2018-19, together with an overview of historic buildings analysis and research. To start the process, local government archaeological advisers provided an overview of key projects and resources in their geographic area, broken down into periods. Finds Liaison Officers with the Portable Antiquities Scheme also offered relevant data to the period specialists to inform their overviews. This information was then collated and provided to period specialists to prepare an update summary based on the period chapter sub-headings used in the original publication. The period chapters and specialists are: Prehistory (Andrew Myers and Sue Stallibrass), Late Prehistory (Mike Nevell), Roman (Rob Philpott), Early Medieval (Rachel Newman), Later Medieval (Carolanne King), Post-Medieval (Ian Miller), Industrial & Modern (Mike Nevell), with an additional one on built heritage (Marion Barter). The challenge of presenting a summary for the historic built environmentis considerable. This is a vast subject area which has not been tackled before on a regional basis, although there have been a number of key overviews by county, local authority or by building type. Additionally, the span of time needs to go back beyond 2006 as this subject was not specifically covered in the previous publication. It was felt that, within the constraints of the project budget and timescale, it would be best for a broad overview to be put forward, with an opportunity for the historic environment community to offer information to fill in the gaps and provide more detail.

Initial results of these studies were presented at a Resource Assessment conference in Lancaster on 5th May 2017 (Appendix 1). Prior to this, the North West branch of the Council for British Archaeology(CBA NW) set up a blog site to bring the project to the attention of the community practising in or interested in the region’s historic environment The period specialist summaries were uploaded in draft form, with the blog being used to make them available for consultation and feedback so that the historic environment community was given a chance to submit comments and relevant additional information. In addition, a wide-ranging bibliography was produced for the publications relating to research/investigations on the historic environment in the North-West. This was divided into the period/historic buildings chapters but is also presented as whole. The bibliography was compiled by Dr Michael Nevell and individual period specialists, and was a work in progress throughout the life of the project, with additional entries being submitted through the CBA NW blog site. The importance of the Portable Antiquities Scheme was recognised by having a dedicated presentation at the Resource Assessment conference.

The second stage of the project saw thematic and period workshops delivered in autumn 2017 and early 2018 to re-evaluate and update the Research Framework. This took account of changes in our understanding of the historic environment and the way it is managed. Each period had a dedicated workshop, along with thematic sessions on Built Heritage, Community Engagement, and Strategy.

The workshops took place across the North West, as follows:

  • Early Medieval and Late Medieval – Quakers’ Meeting House, Penrith – 12th September 2017
  • Post-Medieval and Industrial & Modern – Liverpool Museum – 25th September 2017
  • Prehistory and Roman – Chester Cathedral – 19th October 2017
  • Built Heritage – Old Fire Station, Salford University – 2nd November 2017
  • Strategy – Masonic Hall, Preston – 16th February 2018
  • Community – Quakers Meeting House, Penrith – 16th March 2017

They were organised by Penny Dargin-Makin, Rachael Reader, and Kirsty Whittall fromthe Centre for Applied Archaeology, with support from the Period Co-ordinators and the NWRRF Steering Group.

The workshops took the following format:

  • Set up room with 2007 agenda displayed on A1 sheets to facilitate post-it notes and written comments
  • Short introduction to the NWRRF project
  • An overview of the period and key pointers by the period specialist, informed by resource assessment update
  • Post-it note session where participants given the chance to add comments on suitability of original agenda items and sub-headings, research questions, strategic aims, priorities
  • Attendees split into two groups, each being assigned half the A1 agenda sheets, and looking through and commenting on the previous agenda and post it notes
  • Group leaders’ round-up of key comments

The consensus was that the format worked well and provided everyone with an opportunity to contribute. The sessions were generally well attended, and whilst the process was intensive, it was thought provoking and produced good results. Several key changes arose from the workshops:

  • the existing Prehistoric research agenda was found wanting and it was agreed that it should be split into Early Prehistory and Late Prehistory (with a middle Bronze Age split);
  • Built Heritage had its own dedicated workshop were it was agreed that research questions should be integrated into period chapters;
  • some themes needed adding or re-wording to properly reflect the subject material eg.

Leisure and Recreation was identified as a theme for the Industrial & Modern period;

  • the original research agenda has been reformatted into questions and strategies/supporting statements – allowing for review and refinement;
  • the community workshop demonstrated the importance of research by volunteer groups and individuals, many of them with specialist knowledge, but also highlighted the need for support networks and training;
  • it became evident at the Strategy workshop that there were many research questions that cut across several or all periods, which need to be separated out into a general research theme;
  • the Strategy workshop also identified key themes or points for each period, and these are reviewed in the concluding chapter.

A final conference in spring 2018 (Appendix 3) presented the changes to the Research Strategy with the new format of questions and supporting statements presented. Speakers illustrated this by linking case studies of recent research projects to updated research questions. To complete the project all feedback comments on the resource chapters and revised questions derived from the workshops and the CBA blog site were collated by Norman Redhead and Kirsty Whittall, and stake holders reconsulted, before Dr Sam Rowe uploaded them on to the interactive Research Framework wikiplatform prepared under the auspices of Historic England. Built heritage questions arising from the workshop were allocated to the relevant period. It was agreed that there should be a point-in-time publication and CBA NW kindly offered to take this forward. Historic England provide maintenance and support for the wikiplatform, which is designed to host regional research frameworks across the country. Moderation and promotion of the content is the responsibility of individual regions and their steering groups. The managed website has the facility for new projects and data to be uploaded, so that in future the Research Framework can be kept up to date.

Key points made in discussion at the workshops have been set out at the beginning of each resource assessment chapter. Effectively, these form strategic observations or objectives for each period. The concluding chapter summarises these and presents an overview of the thematic workshops (built heritage, community and strategy) as well as setting out recommendations arising from the project.

Appendix 1: Table of steering group members

Mike NevellProject ExecutiveCfAA
Norman RedheadProject ManagerGMAAS
Period SpecialistsPeriod 
Andrew MyersEarly PrehistoricGMAAS
Sue StallibrassEarly PrehistoricHistoric England
Mike NevellLater PrehistoricCfAA
Rob PhilpottRomanIndependent
Rachel NewmanEarly MedievalOAN
Carolanne KingMedievalIndependent
Ian MillerPost-MedievalSalford Archaeology
Mike NevellIndustrial and 20th centuryCfAA
Marion BarterHistoric Built EnvironmentArchitectural History Practice
Members of steering group
Mark BrennandProject ExpertCumbria CC
Craig BrisbaneProject ExpertCBA NW
Penny Dargan-MakinProject Co-ordinatorSalford Archaeology
Paul HartleyProject ExpertConservation Officer, Stockport C
John HodgsonProject ExpertLDNP
Peter IlesCuratorLancashire CC
Mark LeahProject ExpertALGAO
Kirsty Lloyd (Whittall)Project Co-ordinatorSalford Archaeology/Cheshire CC
Dan MilesProject ExpertHistoric England
Doug MoirCuratorLancashire CC
Vanessa OakdenProject ExpertPAS
Rachael ReaderProject Co-ordinatorSalford Archaeology
Sam RoweProject Co-ordinatorSalford Archaeology

Appendix 2: May 2017 Conference Programme

Friday 5th May – The Storey Institute, Lancaster


9.30am    Registration with tea and coffee

10.00am                  Welcome from the ChairMike Nevell

10.05am                  The national contextDan Miles

10.20am                  The North West Research Regional Framework – Setting the Scene  Norman Redhead

10.40am                  Prehistoric OverviewSue Stallibrass

11.10am Comfort Break

11.30am                  Roman Overview   Rob Philpott

12.00pm                  Portable Antiquities Scheme key finds  Vanessa Oakden

12.30pm                  Early Medieval OverviewRachel Newman

1.00pm    Lunch


2.00pm                    Later Medieval OverviewCarolanne King

2.30pm                    Post-Medieval OverviewIan Miller

3.00pm    Tea Break with tea and coffee

3.20pm                    Industrial & Modern OverviewMike Nevell

3.50pm                    Historic Buildings   Marion Barter

4.20pm                    Questions, closing remarks, next steps Mike Nevell

4.30pm    Finish     

Appendix 3: April 2018 Conference Programme

CBA North West Spring Conference

North West Regional Research Framework for the Historic Environment:

An updated research strategy

Saturday 28th April The Old Fire Station, University of Salford

9.30amArrival and refreshments

10.00am                  Welcome

10.0am                    Introduction to Research FrameworksMike Nevell

10.25am                  The North West project: transforming the research agenda: Questions and StrategiesNorman Redhead

Applied case studies:

10:50 am                 Early Medieval: Early Medieval BurialsRachel Newman

11.20 am Comfort break

11.30am                  Early Prehistory: Stainton West, a persistent place on the River Eden: new insights into northern hunter-gatherer landscapes and the Neolithic transitionFraser Brown

12.00am                  Later Prehistory: Hillforts and Husbandry: West Cheshire in the first millennium BCDan Garner

12.30am                  Roman: Finds from the North WestRob Philpott

1.00pm   Lunch

2.00pm                    Medieval: Paget’s Disease of Bone at Norton Priory: using an archaeological collection to help modern medical researchLynn Smith

2.30pm    Post Medieval: North West England in the Post Medieval Period: Archaeological Research since 2006Ian Miller

3.00pm    Tea Break

3.20pm                    Industrial & Modern: Workers Housing InvestigationsChris Wild

3.50pm                    Questions, Summing up and next stepsMike Nevell

4.45         Close