The Industrial and 20th Century Period


Compiled by Michael Nevell

(With contributions from Mark Brennand, John Hodgson, Peter lles, Mark Leah, Jamie Lund, Nigel Neil, Norman Redhead, & Sue Stallibrass)


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.


A wide variety of approaches exist for studying the post-1750 period, from a focus on the archaeology of technology and production to more theoretical approaches looking at the social context and consequences of industrialisation. Archaeological fieldwork and research on the Industrial and 20th century period (post-1750 to 2000) has been led by developer-funded archaeology, with additional material provided by HLF community projects, local voluntary societies, English Heritage/Historic England landscape surveys, and university research projects. The volume of work in the period 2006 to 2018 is considerable. Hundreds of grey literature reports on industrial sites and buildings have been produced for North West England, along with more than 130 publications as books, monograph series, journal articles and a number of student MAs and PhDs. In addition, there are a variety of regional websites containing useful resources, chief amongst these the Industrial History of Cumbria website ( Such a large corpus of material reflects both the continuing interest by voluntary groups in the archaeology of the recent past, and also the way in which developer-funded archaeology can be used to recover data from this period.

The research and theoretical framework for the period continues to develop. The Association for Industrial Archaeology and the Society for Post-medieval Archaeology published a joint volume on current and future research directions in post-1550 archaeology in 2009 (Horning & Palmer 2009). This collection of 30 papers was divided into three sections covering current practice and paradigms, analytical approaches, approaches to people and things. The National Association for Mining History Organisations (NAMHO) issued a research framework document in 2016. The scope of this framework for the archaeology of extractive industries in England, whilst encompassing sites going back thousands of years, included a review of the existing evidence covering topics relevant to the Industrial period. This includes over views of energy minerals (coal), metals, bulk minerals (stone, aggregates, lime, sand), and other industrial minerals (clays, evaporates), as well as a research agenda (Newman 2016). The Historical Metallurgy Society has also published a research framework that is relevant to the Industrial Period. As well as having very useful resource overviews, method, and technological development sections, it has a section on Post-Medieval research themes (Bayley, Crossley & Ponting 2008). The Contemporary and Historical Archaeology in Theory group (CHAT), founded in 2003 to enable dialogue between the research fields of later historical archaeology and the archaeology the contemporary world, has actively promoted research in this new area, much of which is relevant to North West England. These include individual conference proceedings and thematic publications on subjects such as graffiti (Oliver & Neal 2010).

English Heritage/Historic England published several guides to the archaeology and heritage of the post-1750 period. A note on science for historic industries was published in 2006 (Dungworth & Paynter 2006). This guidance focussed on the investigation of post-medieval and industrial sites, with overviews on site formation processes, historical sources, sampling process residues, recording historic technology, and dealing with contaminated land. In 2010 English Heritage published a thematic research strategy on the Historic Industrial Environment (EH 2010). This was divided into three broad themes: the origins of industrialisation; the impact of industrialisation; and the legacy of industrialisation.

Inevitably there are lacuna in this data. Two of the most obvious are the comparative lack of synthetic studies for the period and the lack of gender and identity studies.

Key overview comments to address for the Industrial and 20th century period

A number of overarching comments came out of the workshop discussions for the framework that should be taken into consideration for the Industrial and 20th century period:

  • Changes have been made to the theme headings to reflect the period.
  • Recent investigations have seen lots of important analysis on human remains.
  • Food production from rural/farms is an important theme that needs mentioning.
  • The rural poor of this period relate to contemporary homelessness.
  • For the Environment theme, the landscape change due to invasive flora/fauna and development pressure are key aspects.
  • There are several overlapping questions which need resolving and turning into proper questions, and some should be moved to the overarching strategy section (done).
  • Some questions should be amended to integrate archaeology and architecture (done).
  • Place based research (holistic approach) in a landscape context is important.
  • We should recognise sub-regional variation eg. houses, mills, public buildings etc.
  • Changing building materials is a key theme: glass, steel, cast-iron framework etc.
  • Dealing with other evidence bases eg. photographs, social history incl. oral histories, vital for this period.
  • For the Post Medieval and Industrial & Modern periods generally, why do we do archaeology and how can we ensure that it isn’t just an expensive way of telling us what we already know (from written resources)? We need to stress the unique ability to reveal/investigate demolished sites and enable reconstruction.
  • How do we capture the process of industrialisation? This is a high level question which has been rather overlooked due to a focus on smaller questions.
  • Development of travel infrastructure for people and goods, transatlantic trade and population movements are especially key themes for the North West.
  • How do we incorporate Britain’s archaeological and architectural influence on its Imperial world, and that Imperial world’s impact on Britain?
  • How and why do we separate post-medieval and industrial archaeology? Key factors that changed in the industrial period onwards relate to the sheer scale and diversity of the resource and to how buildings were built – the increasing input of architects, surveyors and engineers resulted in documentary evidence alongside business, municipal and other records. We aren’t so reliant on archaeology, so other research techniques such as architectural history and social history are relevant.  We need to be more focused to deal with the scale.
  • Overarching Strategies should include digitisation and management of archive plans, engaging local archives/ local history/specialist groups, synthesis of information held by local/specialist societies, holistic research applications, accessing PhDs, area based studies, landscape context.
  • For buildings, an important theme is threat due to shifts in the socio-economic trends and political policy eg. do we understand enough about the significance of banks, pubs, police stations, municipal buildings, high street shops, post offices to inform decisions about change and potential loss? 

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