Urban Settlements

The 2006 review recognised that the study of the medieval urban environment was heavily focused on Chester this is still the case with its regional importance now acknowledged through its own research framework (Beckley & Campbell 2013). However there has since been significant work carried out within other urban historic cores across the cities and towns in the region, particularly in Cumbria. Regeneration projects, especially in Manchester and Salford, have led to the investigation of historical urban cores on a scale not seen previously. The EUS, initiated by English Heritage in the early 1990s, were completed for Cheshire and Cumbria before 2006 but have only recently been made available through the ADS. The Lancashire Surveys were completed in 2006 but are not yet available online; Greater Manchester’s and Merseyside’s were incorporated into HLC. These various studies could act as starting points for more in depth studies of medieval towns as recommended in the previous NWRRF.

Chester continues to see archaeological mitigation on most work undertaken within the city bounds. There are on-going repairs and consolidation to the city walls with the most recent around East Gate and North Gate (Earthworks Archaeological Services forthcoming). The walls were originally part of the Roman fort but also contain a considerable amount of surviving medieval fabric (Fig 18). Medieval deposits from the rear of domestic properties were uncovered at Weaver Street including a pottery assemblage with locally made pottery and Ewloe ware from North Wales dating to the late 14th/15th centuries (Garner 2015). Current excavations (2017) by the University of Chester in Grosvenor Park are revealing significant late medieval material including worked stone from the Norman period and a late medieval jetton. A recent study brought together researchers across different disciplines, including archaeology, to investigate medieval Chester. Important elements of the study were analysis of its position on the fluctuating borders with Wales and the production of a digital map of the 15th century city (Clarke 2011).

The extensive development in the 19th and 20th centuries of the major conurbations of Manchester and Liverpool obliterated much of their medieval cores and little survives above ground. In Manchester some evidence for the medieval town remains in patches around the cathedral (originally the parish church). This includes Chethams which was built as a college of priests in 1420 on the site of a manor house which in turn was erected on a probable 12th century castle site. Recent work includes a DBA (Arrowsmith 2011) of the Manchester medieval quarter, the excavation of a possible ditch belonging to the castle complex (Matrix Archaeology 2014) and survey of Chethams’ wall, revealed after demolition of Victorian buildings (Redhead 2016).

Exposed 15th century precinct wall and arch over probable castle ditch (infilled), Chetham’s College, Manchester (courtesy of Norman Redhead)

One of the major publications of medieval urban sites is that of the excavations in what was the medieval centre of Salford, compiling investigations undertaken since the late 1980s. Although the medieval buildings were demolished by the early 20th century excavations have revealed burgage plots and boundaries, cess pits and finds dating from the 13th century onwards. 13th and 14th century pottery was retrieved and one rubbish pit contained a rare archer’s wrist guard made from reused shoe leather (Gregory and Miller 2015, 12) (Figs. 20; 21; 22).

Plan of Medieval Salford, Greater Manchester (courtesy of Oxford Archaeology Ltd)
Medieval cellar being excavated at Chapel Street, Salford, Greater Manchester (courtesy of Norman Redhead)

Unusually stone foundations and cellars survived in places fronting Chapel Street and one cellar may have been part of a bakery (Haslam et al 2017) These excavations are charting a picture of the evolution of a medieval urban centre into a key industrial centre.

Outside the major urban conurbations of the southern part of the region limited work has taken place in Lancaster and Carlisle. In Carlisle, English Heritage commissioned OAN to review the archaeological and palaeoenvironmental evidence from the historic core and the suburb of Stanwix (C). The aim of this was to establish the location of zones where waterlogged deposits may be preserved. The study established that land within the walled city offered the best opportunity for preserved deposits, particularly between the castle and cathedral (Zant et al 2013 52). Other archaeological work in the city informed a history of Carlisle (Brennand and Stringer 2011) and Volume 2 of the Carlisle Millennium Project, dealing with the finds and ecofacts, is now published (Howard-Davis 2010). The waterlogged deposits enabled the survival of leather and other organic material that gave insights into everyday life in the outer ward of the castle.

It is usually only in the larger urban areas undergoing major regeneration where opportunities for large-scale excavation arise. In towns, archaeological mitigation is focused on smaller areas although these can be used to give a wider picture of the medieval development of a town or city. For example, several archaeological excavations of the historic core of Penrith (C) have been synthesised and published (Zant 2015). Other small urban settlements have been investigated, including Cockermouth (C) where three burgage plots were excavated on Main Street. These were shown to have been occupied continuously since the 12th century (Leech and Gregory 2013). The excavations of burgage plots at Stricklandgate, Kendal (C) demonstrated occupation since the late 12th/early 13th centuries. The pottery assemblage was studied to examine the medieval to post medieval transition of ceramic traditions (Whitehead et al 2013).

The pottery assemblage recovered from Shaw’s Weind, Appleby (C) has evidence for trade links beyond the region (see Trade, Exchange and Interaction), as well as a local pottery tradition (Brooks et al 2013). Wigan (GM) also revealed evidence for burgage plots to the rear of Millgate (GM), including a ceramic assemblage dating from the 12th-15th centuries (Bagwell et al 2006). Other sites have been contextualised in a CBA NW publication on excavated burgage plots from the region. Here the issues of investigating the archaeology of the smaller regional towns, especially Cheshire were discussed identifying that the lack of opportunities for extensive excavation, and that the often shallow stratigraphy on excavations in small towns, is a factor limiting our understanding of urban settlements of the late medieval period (Towle & Hayes 2009). Little has been done to establish the potential for survival of medieval elements in the standing buildings, known to have had medieval antecedents. Occasional evidence is found during surveys in advance of redevelopment but these are still few in number.

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