Rural estates, halls and manor houses

The most visible remains of the Post-Medieval rural landscape are the impressive timber-framed and stone-built halls and manor houses. Numerous surveys of standing structures and the excavations of buried foundations of these types of buildings have been carried out across the region since 2006. One of the most significant projects in this respect has been undertaken on behalf of the National Trust across the Dunham Massey Estate in Trafford (GM), building upon decades of earlier research. A major element of the recent work comprised an extensive programme of archaeological and historic building survey to inform an enhanced understanding and management of the Estate. UMAU then Matrix Archaeology prepared detailed building surveys for the estate’s many farms and other historic buildings relating to the running of the estate. More than 20 separate building survey reports have been produced, coupled with some excavation work that was carried out partly as community-based projects (Gregory and Miller 2013), cumulatively making this a study of potential regional importance. This was enhanced by the Warburton Archaeological Survey, a comprehensive survey of the township adjacent to Dunham Massey, which explored the evolution of the landscape from the Medieval period onwards and demonstrated an evolutionary pattern very different to that of the neighbouring estate of Dunham Massey (Nevell et al 2015).

Photograph of a large brick built building
Manor Farm in Dunham, built in the early 18th century for the House Steward of the Second Earl of Warrington (courtesy of Matrix Archaeology)

Amongst the other Post-Medieval manor houses that have been investigated in the North West is Staley Hall in Stalybridge (GM), a mid-16th-century timber-framed manor house that replaced an earlier hall. Archaeological surveys of the building, coupled with a series of excavations, have been carried out over a period of 25 years, culminating in 2012 in advance of a development that aimed to repurpose the buildings for modern residential use (Rimmer 2018).

As with the investigation of other monument types, archaeological science has played an increasingly important role in understanding the dating and developmental chronology of Post-Medieval halls and manor houses. Dendrochronological analysis undertaken on 41 of the 45 samples obtained from timbers in different parts of Tonge Hall near Rochdale (GM), for instance, produced a single dated site chronology comprising 38 samples with an overall length of 239 rings. These rings were dated as spanning the years AD 1449–1687. Interpretation of the sapwood on the dated samples indicates that the roof, first-floor frame, and structural timbers of the hall range, as well as the roof and stair timbers of the cross-wing, were all cut as part of a single phase of construction between AD 1589–1614. A ground-floor fire place bressumer of the hall range has an estimated felling date of AD 1609–34, while the timbers of a first-floor partition have an estimated felling date in the range AD 1640–65. The latest dated timbers are the floorboards of the cross-wing attic, which have an estimated felling date in the range of AD 1697–1722 (Arnold and Howard 2014a).

Photograph of a fire damaged roof
Tongue Hall, Middleton, Rochdale (courtesy of GMAAS)

The work undertaken at Tonge Hall was one of several similar scientific dating reports produced by English Heritage (now Historic England). Another example can be drawn from Lytham Hall in Lancashire, where a tree-ring dating programme was commissioned on oak and softwood timbers. This 18th-century manor house occupies the site of an earlier manor house and Benedictine Priory and is set in 30 hectares of mature parkland within which a further programme of sampling was undertaken on living oaks. The study concluded that oak and pine timbers from the roof of the 18th-century building were datable by tree-ring dating techniques, with the earlier ranges to the west containing some oak timbers from the 16th century (Tyers 2013).

Other important recent archaeological surveys of Post-Medieval halls include that undertaken at the Grade II listed Monks Hall in Eccles (GM), where a timber-framed wing has been dated to the 1580s (UMAU 2007 and EH 2010). Similarly, at Ordsall Hall in Salford, the roof was studied during repairs when the batons and slates were removed, enabling the roof timbers to be dated accurately. This work adds to a significant corpus of archaeological investigations at Ordsall Hall, examining the 14th-century moat and former kitchen wing and the 16th-century remodelling of the hall complex. Perhaps the most important of the recent surveys of Post-Medieval halls, however, is that at Bramhall Hall in Stockport, where a detailed chronology for the development of the buildings has been elucidated (Fletcher 2017).

Archaeological excavations across the North West have also contributed to an enhanced understanding of Post-Medieval halls. Many of these excavations have been carried out as community-led projects, such as ‘Royton Lives Through the Ages’, led by the local history society and UMAU, involving total excavation of the mainly Post-Medieval hall of Royton in Oldham (GM). The excavation was carried out over several seasons, culminating in 2009, and provides an important example of a fully excavated hall yielding well-preserved remains that demonstrate the site’s evolution from the medieval period to 19th-century decline (Thompson and Whittall 2011).

Photograph of the stone remains of a building
The excavated remains of Royton Hall, Oldham, Greater Manchester in 2009 (courtesy of GMAAS)

The Dig Greater Manchester community archaeology project, funded by the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities, also involved the excavation of several Post-Medieval halls. During the course of this major community-led project, significant remains were discovered at: Moss Bank (Bolton), Balderstone Hall (Rochdale), Etherstone Hall (Wigan), Eastwood House Cheetham Park (Tameside), Chadderton Hall (Oldham), Wood Hall (Stockport), Hart Hill Mansion (Salford), Longford Hall (Trafford). The accompanying desk-top study forms an important resource of this type of site in Greater Manchester (UMAU 2015).

The sites of other Post-Medieval halls have excavated in advance of development as part of the planning process. Examples include Crow Hall in Newton-le-Willows (M), where excavation in advance of a housing development uncovered remains relating to the eastern and western wings of the building, consisting of cut features, the foundations of brick and sandstone walls and some internal surfaces. It appeared that much of the structure dated to no earlier than the mid- to late 17th century and had probably been built in a single phase (Adams and Edwards 2008).

One of the challenges facing the excavation of Post-Medieval halls is that many were comprehensively rebuilt during the 19th century, reflecting a trend that has been noted at many halls across the region when ownership changed as wealthy industrialists expressed their new high status. This was very apparent, for instance, during the excavation of the well-preserved buried remains of the southern wing of Sale Old Hall in Trafford (GM) in 2011.

Photograph of an archaeological excavation with walled remains
The excavated remains of Sale Old Hall (2011) (courtesy of Northern Archaeological Associates)

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