Building forms and groups

The geography, resources and social organisation of the region have dictated distinctive localised types of buildings and groupings, some surviving from the medieval period. A number have been subject to local studies as well as regional and national analysis (see Historic Building chapter). Some medieval structures have now seen excavations as well as building surveys, often identifying previously unknown earlier phases. New digital survey techniques and Historic England’s programme of tree-ring dating have had a significant impact on our knowledge of medieval buildings, refining chronologies and in some cases, re-interpreting established phasing.

Over the past ten years publications as part of the Greater Manchester Past Revealed (GMPR) series have explored a number of sites, including late medieval manor houses. At Cheadle Green, Stockport, investigations of late 18th century buildings discovered evidence for a hitherto unknown late medieval site of some prestige indicated by encaustic tiles, ceramic roof tiles and pottery sherds, some of possible 13th century origin. Dwarf walls and earth surfaces within the footprint of a later 18th/19th C buildings may have been the footings for an earlier timber framed structure, possibly the medieval manor house (Redhead and Miller 2014) (Fig 7)

Medieval pottery assemblage from Cheadle Green, Stockport, Greater Manchester
Excavation of medieval building at Cheadle Green, Stockport, Greater Manchester (courtesy of GMAAS)

Many of the known sites of medieval buildings, especially where elements are still standing, are nationally designated and investigations tend to be limited dealing primarily with management issues. Though small scale such investigations still have potential, test pitting at Little Moreton Hall (Ch) in 2009 revealed possible evidence for timber buildings within what is now the orchard and encaustic tiles similar to those found at Norton Priory were identified (Trott and Allen 2009). In 2010, the Hall was subjected to a detailed point cloud survey followed by historical analysis reviewing the results of previous surveys. Reassessment has shown that the hall chapel is a rare survival of a pre-reformation private chapel (Hartwell & Barter 2012, 75). Further work in 2017 saw volunteers from the National Trust record over 250 deliberate burn marks located throughout the building. These are thought to have been created as protective marks, a folk belief practice that probably originated in the late medieval period and continued until at least the 17th century (Jackson and Owen 2017) (see Vernacular religions and secular customs) (Fig 8).

Archaeological investigations at Speke Hall (M) and the wider landscape were published in 2015, contextualising the hall and including the results of an evaluation which revealed the remains of Home Farm, thought to be late Medieval in origin (King 2015). The site of Timperley Old Hall, Trafford (GM), was subject to community excavations from the late 1980s onwards culminating in a recent publication (Pierce et al 2013). The site produced late medieval finds including a prick spur, spindle whorls and 13th-14th century green glazed wares, as well as over a thousand pottery sherds. The pottery assemblage ranges from the medieval to the post medieval period and is regionally important (see production) although it still awaits in depth analysis.

Other excavations and surveys on medieval halls, undertaken prior to 2006, have been published and include excavations at Bewsey Hall, Warrington (Ch) carried out 1977-85 (Lewis et al 2011). Probably originating as an aisled hall in the late 12th/early 13th century, the hall went through a series of rebuilds with eventual demolition in the 17th century. The publication traces its history through excavation and uses documentary research as well, to examine the lives of those who lived and worked at the hall. Excavations at the moated sites of Twiss Green and Barrow Old Hall, also in Warrington, are due for publication soon (Collens and Garner forthcoming). The excavation of a possible 12th century aisled Hall at Mellor, Stockport (GM) has been partially published (Hearle 2011), although full publication is still awaited.

At Martholme, Great Harwood (L) evaluation and excavation within the former pantry and kitchen passage of the manor house revealed parts of a timber predecessor building of the 13th or 14th century (Neil 2010, 393). An extensive private excavation by the owners in 2011, comprising most of the site of the great hall (known to have been demolished c. 1620-60), and including a curvilinear dais and an adjacent residential wing to the West, was recorded (Neil 2012, 401-02). An open hearth was evident at the east end of the great hall, underlying the remains of a flagged floor.

A considerable body of work encompassing medieval building types and their groupings is now available for regional analysis. An example of such analysis examines the archaeology and history of Newton Hall, Hyde (GM), a 14th century timber framed cruck building restored in the 1960s. A recent publication places the hall within the context of the cruck frame tradition of the North-west, presenting a gazetteer and a more detailed study of the Greater Manchester area (Nevell 2010).

A programme of tree ring dating initiated by English Heritage is showing that good sequences can be obtained although a regional master curve is now needed against which to match sample sequences (Stallibrass pers. comm.). In some cases, the results are suggesting late medieval/post medieval dates for reused materials in buildings thought to be more modern in origin, e.g. West Barn, Parbold (L), where the timbers in the main body of the barn were shown to be mid-16th century in origin, not 18th century as previously thought (Arnold & Howard 2011). This type of analysis can also identify previously unknown phases of development in buildings such as at Turton Tower (L) (Fig 9).

Turton Tower, Blackburn (courtesy of Carolanne King)

Here, timbers from the cruck wing adjoining the tower house (not precisely dated, but probably 15th century) were identified as having a felling date of 1530-50; a phase of alteration/extension that was not previously known (Arnold & Howard 2008). Turton Tower was also the subject of additional research for a conservation management plan (Arrowsmith et al 2010). Dendrochronology undertaken at Little Moreton Hall (Ch) shows that the earliest parts of the current building originate in the early 16th century not the late 15th as previously thought. Tree-ring dating demonstrates that medieval construction techniques do not always originate in this period (Hartwell and Barter 2012, 5). These assumptions need to be reviewed as dendrochronology suggests not only the continuation of medieval building traditions into the post medieval period, but also that the reuse of old materials is more extensive than previously thought.

The high status late medieval buildings of the region are gradually being surveyed using modern techniques, such as point cloud surveys, and are already revealing new information. This recording is usually in advance of renovation and restoration often funded by the HLF, as at Bramall Hall, Stockport (GM) where major restoration was accompanied by detailed surveys to enable comprehensive interpretation (Hartwell et al 2010; Fletcher 2013). This included specialist surveys carried out since the 1980s. Wall paintings in the ballroom once thought to be 15th century in date, were identified as late 16th century but in the style of earlier tapestries. Also identified were ‘antique work’ paintings of 1610 in the east roof space of the 15th century wing.

A recent fire at Wythenshawe Hall, Trafford (GM), has initiated detailed recording of a building that has at its core a 16th century timber framed hall. The recording also included analysis of the window glass using portable X-ray fluorescence along with other chemical analysis. The results suggest that some glass is contemporary with the 16th century building and more unusually some earlier panes appear to have been reused in the building (Dungworth 2017, 19) (Fig 10).

Ordsall Hall, Salford (GM) is another recently restored building. Prior to this latest scheme of work, the west wing was subject to a detailed survey and appears to be an early 17th century extension with rebuilding in brick of a smaller timber framed wing that probably originated at the same time as the early 16th century Great Hall (Nevell et al 2009). Research and analysis of the whole building identified that the crown post roof truss over the east chamber is a rare example of a South of England roof form in the NW, dated c.1360 by dendrochronology (Hartwell et al 2005).

Academic research of medieval buildings includes a doctoral thesis which covered NW sites in its re-examination of the national distribution of moated sites. The study created a new dataset of the locations of sites looking at factors that governed their construction and location (Coveney 2014). It noted that new moated sites in the NW were created at a later date than in other parts of the country which has implications for the new research agenda.


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