Urban settlement

Excavations ahead of regeneration development have yielded a wealth of evidence for urban settlement in the Post-Medieval period. Greater Manchester has provided an important focus for 21st-century development in urban areas, with major schemes having been carried out in Manchester, Salford and Stockport, although large-scale projects that have led to the excavation of Post-Medieval remains have also been delivered in the region’s other large urban centres, such as Liverpool, Wigan, Carlisle and Chester. The investigation of Liverpool’s river frontage in the 2000s was focused on the expansion of the docks from the mid-18th century, but also provided some evidence for the 17th-century settlement (Gregory et al 2014). Important evidence for Post-Medieval activity in Chester has similarly been obtained from the major programme of excavation undertaken on the site of the Roman amphitheatre (Wilmott and Garner forthcoming).

The series of multi-period excavations carried out along Church Street in Lancaster from the late 1980s onwards still await full publication, although the results of dendrochronological analysis of 38 conifer samples from the Post-Medieval brewery that occupied part of the excavated areas were placed in the public domain in 2010. Three of the five site sequences identified from the analysis were dated as spanning AD 1627–1754, AD 1551–1733, and AD 1605–1737 (Arnold and Howard 2010).

In Greater Manchester, several open-area excavations on Gore Street, Chapel Street, Greengate and at Chapel Wharf in Salford’s historic core yielded physical remains of urban houses from this period, together with large assemblages of pottery. The Chapel Wharf development site in particular uncovered a regionally important assemblage of Post-Medieval pottery, together with evidence for the re-use of Medieval burgage plot ditches, and Post-Medieval infill (Gregory and Miller 2015; Mottershead 2017).

The foundations of Post-Medieval buildings within medieval burgage plots exposed during excavation at Chapel Wharf, Salford, 2007 (courtesy of GMAAS)

Amongst the earliest of the remains uncovered during the large-scale excavations as part of the Gore Street development in 2018 were the well-preserved cellars of two separate buildings on the Chapel Street frontage that are depicted on Casson and Berry’s map of 1745. The most complete cellar measured 4.5m by 3m, with the southern wall incorporating the foundation for a bow window. Hand-made bricks laid in a herringbone pattern paved the floor, with a large brick-built fireplace and chimney breast surviving against the east wall (Harvey and Mottershead 2018).

The excavated cellar of a Post-Medieval house on Chapel Street in Salford (courtesy of Salford Archaeology)

Excavation on the site of the former Exchange Station in Salford (GM) similarly revealed building remains and quantities of finds (Haslam et al 2017), whilst some Post-Medieval features and fragments of pottery were recovered from large-scale archaeological excavation in 2017 that were targeted on the suspected hamlet of White Cross, situated beyond the northern fringe of Salford’s historic core (Harvey and Stitt 2019).

Elsewhere in Greater Manchester, a large excavation undertaken in 2008 in advance of a new Joint Service Centre on Millgate in Wigan unearthed Roman remains of regional importance, but also yielded evidence for activity on the site between the 15th and 18th centuries, and a large assemblage of Post-Medieval pottery. This group included sherds of Midland Purple-type wares, several Blackware multi-handled cups or posset pots, and some large fragments of trailed slipware, with a date range spanning the 16th to early 18th centuries (Zant and Miller 2011). Another small but nevertheless important assemblage of Post-Medieval pottery from an urban setting was recovered from limited excavations on Lower Hillgate in Stockport (GM) in 2011. The foundations of a substantial stone building were also exposed, together with a vaulted brick-built conduit for the Tin Brook. This represented an early stage in the culverting of the watercourse to facilitate an urban expansion of Stockport (Vannan 2011a).

The recently published account of excavations carried out by the former Cumbria & Lancashire Archaeological Unit in 1980-81 at 75-87 Main Street in Cockermouth (C) is also of note. This comprised historic building survey and excavation across three former burgage plots along one of the town’s principal streets, providing important evidence for a continuous sequence of activity ranging from the 13th to 19th centuries. Physical remains of 15th-century buildings, including two dwellings, an outbuilding and a cruck-framed barn, all with clay walls, were uncovered, together with evidence for their replacement in the late 17th and 18th centuries by a series of densely-packed stone and brick-built dwellings (Leech and Gregory 2013).

In addition to the established medieval towns, new centres of population began to be established across the region during the Post-Medieval period. Work carried out at Bottling Wood near Wigan (GM), for instance, traced the origin of this community of nail makers to at least the early 18th century, centred on a corn mill that utilised the power of the River Douglas (Robinson et al 2010).

The excavated foundations of workers’ houses in Bottling Wood, Wigan, Greater Manchester (courtesy of Oxford Archaeology Ltd)

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