Resource Exploitation

Managed environments, especially marginal lands, have their own histories of form and function with specific types of archaeology. The study of the archaeology of these including parks, woodland, forests and mosses (peat) is a growing national trend (e.g. Liddard 2007; Langton and Jones 2008; Langton 2010) and is reflected in studies across the region. Our knowledge of managed woodland has also increased, mainly through local community projects. Palaeoenvironmental analysis has been employed on a number of sites to reveal evidence for peat exploitation and reconstruct landscape use at a local level, although there is still a lack of data to be addressed which has been noted in national syntheses. There have been a number of projects on deer parks and associated medieval estates in the region, some of which have resulted in publication after years of research (e.g. Dunham Massey (Ch)).

The final volume of the North-west Wetlands Survey covering South West Lancashire was published in 2014. These surveys collectively provide a guide to wetland location and extent and can enable further research into how these environments were exploited in this period (Middleton et al 2014). Palaeoenvironmental sampling of the peat lands in the region are lacking medieval dates and it is suggested that peat extraction from the early medieval period onwards may be the cause of this (Huntley 2010). At Sizergh Castle (C), analysis identified that the surviving upper layers produced early medieval dates, suggesting truncation by peat extraction (Taylor and Bradley 2014) (Fig. 13). Other evidence for peat extraction during this period is emerging across the region as a result of surveys identifying small scale cuttings across the wetlands and moors e.g. Coniston (C) (Schofield 2010, 20). Palaeoenvironmental analysis of deposits from urban areas indicates that peat was probably a common fuel and analysis of plant fossils in deposits from Carlisle identified species that lived in peat environments (Shaw 2010). Peat may also have been used as a fuel at the pottery production site of Petergate (C) (Wood et al 2007).

Historic England has produced a series of reports focusing on different aspects of the palaeoenvironmental evidence for the North of England including sites in the NW. However for the macroplant fossils, the report produced in 2007 covered samples taken before 2002 and concluded that although the medieval period was generally well served by sampling, there were missed opportunities in the NW (Hall and Huntley 2007). The invertebrates review for the North of England noted with regret that at the date of the study (2009), invertebrate collection for archaeological analysis was not common though it had much to offer, especially in Cheshire which is on the limit of many insect distributions and is important for climate reconstruction (Kenworth 2009, 203). Although collection of environmental evidence has been a major trend over the last ten years there is no up to date synthesis for the NW and the evidence presented for crops, resource use, and climate change remains confined to specialist reports for individual excavations.

Where palaeoenvironmental evidence is taken and analysed, it can enable reconstruction of the local landscape and land usage. A pollen monolith from Wharton Hall (GM) showed that during the 12th-14th centuries, temperatures were warm and cereal cultivation was a significant part of the economy but by the 16th century, cultivation of cereals had ceased and pastoral farming became standard (Gregory 2015, 3). Although this type of sampling and analysis is still infrequent for the late medieval period, it is increasing.

Ancient woodlands (defined as those in place by 1600) have the potential for a range of archaeological features to survive relating to their management and utilization in industry. A sub-project of the Pennine Prospects Water Shed Landscapes Project (see table 2) is investigating the archaeology and history of the woodlands of the South Pennines including features preserved by the woodland and those that were part of the management and utilisation of the wood.

HLF Landscape Partnership Schemes in the North West:

NameCountyCompletion
Sefton Coast Landscape Partnership SchemeMerseyside2008
Pendle Hill Landscape Partnership SchemeLancashireOn-going
The Solway Wetlands Landscape PartnershipCumbria2010
Headlands to Headscape-Morecambe Bay’s Landscape PartnershipLancashireOn-going
Lancashire Woodland Heritage Landscape Partnership SchemeLancashireOn-going
The Carbon Landscape-Restoring Greater Manchester wetlands to the communityGreater ManchesterOn-going
Bassenthwaite ReflectionsCumbria2005
Habitats and Hillforts of Cheshire’s Sandstone RidgeCheshire2007
The South Pennines Watershed LandscapeYorkshire focused but elements in Lancashire2009
Windermere Reflections: Windermere Catchment LPSCumbria2009
The Meres and Mosses of the MarchesShropshire and Cheshire2010
Saltscapes: connecting heritage, nature and people in the Weaver ValleyCheshire2012
Rusland Horizons: working a Lakeland LandscapeCumbria2013

Other HLF funded archaeology projects (not inclusive as other projects may exist):

Access to Archaeology: the Historic Environment of the Lake District National ParkCumbria
Ring Cairns to Reservoirs: Investigating the archaeology of the Duddon ValleyCumbria
Hapton Big Dig: Archaeological evaluation of Hapton Tower and adjacent earthworksLancashire2017
Revealing the history of Marple and Mellor
Whitworth ParkGreater Manchester

The review of wood and charcoal from excavations in the north of England mentions on-going analysis of pit steads (charcoal burning sites) across the LDNP, some of which are producing dates from the 12th to 14th centuries indicating the presence of local managed woodland (Huntley 2010). An historic landscape survey of woodland east of Coniston Water included documentary research, which revealed a grant of 1339 establishing the date of formation for the woodland belonging to Furness Abbey. This managed woodland provided fuel for iron working, and at the dissolution of the abbey, a report mentions the manufacture of charcoal and the presence of smithies for producing iron for the monastery; this has been confirmed by the survey which recorded 164 charcoal platforms (Fig. 14) (Schofield 2010).

A study of the development and evolution of the landscape in Inglewood Forest (C) charted the transformation of a late medieval common from waste into cultivated land by the 18th century (Hope 2011).

In the 1990’s Desk-top studies of historic designed landscapes (HDLs) in Lancashire Greater Manchester and Cheshire worked towards enhancement of what was then the English Heritage Register of parks and gardens of special historic interest in England. These included a number of deer parks and country house gardens with medieval origins. So far only in Lancashire have these studies been taken to a second phase, with field visits to 291 sites and recommendations to local planning authorities for ‘local listing’ (Barker et al 2013).

HLF-aided work by the Lathom Park Trust (Neil 2007; Neil et al 2004; 2005) looked at the changing size, layout, and purpose of one of the North West’s largest deer parks, at Lathom, West Lancashire (L), from the 13th century to the proposals of Humphrey Repton in the 1790s. Later work finally located and investigated a small part of the palatial and heavily defended Lathom House of the 1480s – reputedly the largest private residence in England (Lathom Park Trust 2011, 2012).

In the forest of Bowland AONB, the HLF project A Leap in the Park included studies of the medieval deer parks at Leagram and Radholme (L). Local communities were encouraged to research the history and development of the parks and participate in fieldwork to identify park features (Neil and Thurnhill 2013) (Fig 15), Further research into Leagram Park (Cooper 2014; Cooper and Shannon 2017) considered the design and location of salters (deer leaps) in the context of a long-running late sixteenth / early seventeenth-century legal case. Some desk-based work has also been done on Hammerton Park (L) (Cooper 2016).

Hapton Tower (L) is subject to ongoing community research and excavation and it is thought to have been constructed in the early 16th century by Sir John Towneley as a hunting lodge for the deer park (Philpott pers. comm.). It is also thought that the medieval village of Birtwhistle was demolished at the time to make way for the park.

At Dunham Massey (Ch) the archaeological work that has taken place across the estate since the 1970’s was recently collated and published. This included excavations and building surveys from across a landscape that had at its heart a late medieval deer park and estate. The publication compiled the work of amateur groups and professionals including commercial companies and the NT in-house archaeological team. The current road network was found to reflect the original medieval field boundaries and part of the early park boundary was identified. Several of the farms were found to have remains of pre-1700s timber framed buildings, obscured by centuries of rebuilding and re modelling and at least one of these was identified as having late medieval origins (Gregory and Miller 2013).


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