Post Medieval


Compiled by Ian Miller

(With contributions from Mark Brennand, Peter lles, Mark Leah, Norman Redhead and Matthew Town)


Each chapter presents a summary of the archaeological and historic environment research undertaken in North West England since 2006 for the particular period or subject. The chapters are arranged using the same structure as the original resource assessment subject chapter for the first North West Archaeology Research Framework published in 2006 (Brennand et al 2006). The update is not a replacement of that work, but rather an addition and enhancement. The 2006 resource assessment text remains a key foundation document for regional research studies in North West England. Nor are the chapters merely a list of all work undertaken since 2006. Instead, they highlight key new data, emerging subject areas, and fresh synthesis in the decade or more since the original regional Research Framework was published.

The chapters have been compiled by an author with special knowledge of the period/subject area and use material provided by a variety of researchers who are also credited. The project included consultation and workshops designed to highlight any omissions in recent significant work. The chapters provide the framework for revised questions and supporting statements/strategies. Being available on this wiki platform allows historic environment practitioners to update and refresh these chapters as new research findings come to light or gaps in data/coverage are identified. It was agreed that these chapters should be published as a point-in-time monograph in 2020 through the CBA North West to complement the original volume of 2006.


The Reformation and the associated Dissolution of the monasteries during the 1530s have been taken for the purposes of the present update to represent the key events that signalled the onset of the Post-Medieval period which, in broad terms, continued to the mid-18th century. This period witnessed the transformation of the North West from a relatively impoverished and sparsely populated backwater to a key region in the early stages of Britain’s industrialisation and globalisation, and the cultural developments of this era laid the foundations for the radical changes to society and the environment that followed.

A huge volume of data for human activity across the region during the Post-Medieval period has been gathered during the last ten years, reflecting the vast amount of archaeological work that has been undertaken in response to an accelerated pace of development, particularly since 2012, coupled with the introduction of more robust legislation that requires the historic environment to be a material consideration in the planning system, initially as Planning Policy Statement 5 (PPS5) and latterly as the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). Another factor is perhaps a widespread recognition and appreciation of the importance and potential of Post-Medieval archaeology, stimulated in part by the publication of the original Research Framework and the associated research objectives. This has been enhanced by research strategies devised by a number of professional bodies and societies, such as the Association for Industrial Archaeology and the Society for Post-Medieval Archaeology, which produced a joint volume on current and future research directions in post-1550 archaeology (Horning and Palmer 2009). Similarly, the Historical Metallurgy Society has published a research framework that presents research themes pertinent to Post-Medieval metal-working trades, together with useful sections on technological development (Bayley et al 2008), whilst the National Association for Mining History Organisations (NAMHO) published a research framework document in 2016 that provides overviews of different minerals such as coal, stone, sand and clay, together with a research agenda (Newman 2016).

Image of an excavation trench with post medieval remains of visible
Community-led excavation of Balderstone Hall in Rochdale, as part of the ‘Dig Greater Manchester’ project (courtesy of GMAAS)

In addition to developer-funded projects, the early 21st century has also seen an accelerated growth of community-led archaeology. This has often enabled the intrusive investigation of sites that are unlikely to be affected by development, exemplified by the series of excavations undertaken as part of the ‘Dig Greater Manchester’ project in 2005-09, some of which specifically targeted the sites of Post-Medieval halls across the county, and large-scale community projects in the Lake District such as ‘Windermere Reflections’ and ‘Rusland Horizons’ that have contributed to an enhanced understand of the Post-Medieval landscape. In a similar vein, supervised metal detecting involving suitably experienced volunteers working under direct archaeological supervision in Cheshire has also produced interesting assemblages of Post-Medieval material, including household items, coins and token, dress fittings, numerous musket balls and tools, indicative of casual loss and the spreading of middens and household waste on the fields. It is acknowledged, however, that concentrations of material indicative of below-ground remains have rarely been located (M Leah pers comm). Similarly, the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) has mapped and recorded a huge number of finds located by metal detector, but these rarely provide any information on their contextual deposition.

A coin hoard consisting of one silver groat of Mary (1553-1554) and 11 silver coins of Elizabeth I (1558-1603), discovered with part of a wooden sundial in Cheshire in 2015 (courtesy of National Museums Liverpool, PAS ID No LVPL-08F250)

Notwithstanding a broadening of the ‘archaeological community’ in the North West, the approaches to the discipline are more multi-faceted than it was at the start of the 21st century, often employing new technologies such as LIDAR, remote sensing, laser scanning and the widespread application of unmanned aerial vehicles for data capture and associated digital recording techniques. There has also been an increased application of archaeological science to studies of Post-Medieval sites and buildings, which have yielded some important results that have helped to refine a current understanding of the evolution of specific sites and monument types.

A welcome achievement since 2006 has been the publication of several key Post-Medieval sites, such as the portfolio of investigative work undertaken in Penrith (C) since the early 1990s (Zant 2015), and the excavations carried out in 1980-81 at 75-87 Main Street in Cockermouth (C), which was finally brought to publication in 2013 (Leech and Gregory 2013). These monographs contribute a fresh insight into the Post-Medieval development of two small towns on opposite fringes of the Lake District. Although a similar volume synthesising archaeological work in Kendal would be a useful addition to the corpus of material on Cumbrian market towns, work on individual development sites in Kendal (Whitehead et al 2013) and Appleby (Brooks et al 2013) has produced insights into plot development and early Post-Medieval ceramics. In the south-western part of the region, a synthesis of much of the archaeological work carried out along the river frontage in Liverpool during the early 2000s has also been presented in a monograph (Gregory et al 2014). Recent years have also seen a surge of ‘popular’ publications, particularly in Greater Manchester, where the established ‘Greater Manchester’s Past Revealed’ series features several Post-Medieval sites that have been subject to archaeological study (eg Gregory and Miller 2013; Redhead and Miller 2014; Rimmer 2018; Gregory 2019). Nevertheless, much of the archaeological data gathered from investigations of Post-Medieval sites is encapsulated in a plethora of ‘grey literature’ reports, and whilst many of these reports can be consulted through the Archaeological Data Service website or regional Historic Environment Records, synthesis is now required to provide thematic overviews of the period.

Post Medieval sites mentioned in text (created by Rachael Reader)

Key overview comments to address for the Post-Medieval period

A number of overarching comments came out of workshop discussions for the framework that should be taken into consideration for the post-medieval period:

  • There is a great need for an agreed terminology for ware types – vessel forms are well-established. There are inconsistencies in reporting of fabrics and weight etc. and standardisation is required. Guidelines should be provided. Recording of the Rainford black glazed earthenware could be used as a model/template. The Medieval Research Group is producing a fabric recording guide which will be published soon and this could be used as a template.
  • We need to identify key sites of publication and train a new generation of finds specialists, helped through a North West finds network.
  • Landscaping for leisure is an important research theme that deserves more attention – the evolution of formal landscaping and how parks were adapted into the industrial period. An example is Dunham Massey where the deer parks were altered. There should be a focus on looking at the origins of parks and their impact on existing settlements, such as clearance.
  • Can we do more to identify pre-1800 abandoned farms? Cheshire is undertaking an overview of stripped and recorded Post Medieval sites abandoned by the early 1800s. There is a proposal to digitise Cumbria archives which would help.
  • The study of graffiti and protective markings is a key recent research theme and useful work is now being carried out on a wide ranging set of buildings. This subject area of belief systems should include concealed clothing, witch bottles etc. A project on concealed clothing has been running, based in Birmingham.
  • Development of dual occupations amongst the farming community was important for early industry, such as early textile mills, mineral extraction, weaving, glass working, nail making. We need to study this more and the land holding rights of farmers (relative success of tenants vs freehold) that stimulated the dual economy.
  • A lot more can be done on identifying Civil War siege works, town defences, castle adaptations, minor battles and skirmishes. PAS data can be useful for the latter. Look at scaring on church towers. The post conflict evidence is also under-studied, such as slighting evidence, impact of confiscation for Royalist supporters (e.g. Wigan town, Lathom House, Blundell Estate in Sefton), but also the flip side of this in terms of the growth of the mercantile class, changes in family fortunes and release of mineral rights which were previously Crown controlled.
  • A key research area should be early river navigations and their link to exchange.
  • The links to Ireland and the Isle of Man and their influence on the region’s archaeology need to be included.

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