MOSTON HALL ARCHEOLOGY DIG. August 2003. (Updated August 23rd 2003)
To my surprise and amazement, I find a major archaeology dig is taking place in the public park that is literally over my own garden fence.
There has been some interest recently in exploring the remains of Moston Hall, a stately home that existed in what is now Broadhurst Park, from the 13th century to 1961, when derelict and subjected to vandalism, the hall was demolished, a year before I was born.
A dig, run principally by the archaeology team from the University Of Manchester's Institute Of science and Technology, (UMIST) has undertaken a project on the site, and up to August 24th, local children and citizens have been invited to join in at certain times. After this date the dig becomes a more professionally, off-limits tot he public site and there is much debate then as to whether the dig will become a permanent local attraction, or face being reburied while a few artefacts from the dig go to local museums. Overtures to Tony Robinson and the Time Team people failed to generate much interest sadly. The final two days of the public access aspect of the dig involve a huge open day/weekend when people can see talks, and even also participate in the digging itself. I hope many friends can come along to see this going on. Before then, there have been daily talks by site Leader, Simon Askew at 4.15 pm each evening, and I got to attend one of these a few days ago.
The cellars and foundations of the property have been found to be largely intact, but archaeologists are excited to find that there is evidence of much earlier building work and activity below even those. While with my Sealed Knot Civil War interests i am interested in what 17th century aspects of life may come of the dig.
Moston, in North Manchester, situated at a half-way point between Manchester and Oldham,
Is an ideal location for settlement and community It is mostly an area of rich sandstone boulder clay deposited by repeated ice-age bombardment upon Collyhurst and Newton Heath up to about 10,000 BC. The area where the hall stood is a slightly elevated plateau where the courses of the 'Dean' and Irk river tributaries (the dean still run through the park) left high and dry as they eroded down surrounding soils and rocks. This left the Moston Hall mound am ideal vantage point on which to establish any kind of settlement, as enemies, and hunting prey could be s potted for some distance around it. Moston takes its name from the White Moss on which the earliest settlers built up their communities.
The archaeologists see the site as a prime, ideal one for such prehistoric communities to have inhabited but have yet to find hard physical evidence to back this, though they do detect that there are materials pre-dating Moston Hall itself under their feet. In many ways the work on the hall itself slows down the potential to get at underlying areas, while it is the stronger imagination catching underlying concerns that could save the dig from closing and the site being re-buried possibly forever. I believe and hope the site could become as important as that at Castlefield and that we could see a strong surge in tourism for Moston.
In the 12th Century one Sir Ralph De'Moston appears on the scene, and by the 13th Century the first Moston Hall was well established. The house would have its own gardens, and stables, and several support houses around it. Virtually next door from the 18th century onwards the Alexian Brothers, a group of Monks from Moravian communities, established a nursing Home, and that is still there to this day, still run by the same Monastic Order.
The Hall , though known from old photographs and ordinance maps from the 19th and 20th centuries, proved surprisingly elusive to find. For three days the archaeologists found virtually nothing, before stumbling upon a wall, which led to the discovery of a well preserved winding spiral cellar step arrangement. The cellar seems purposely designed for temperature control of meats, wines, etc. The walls surrounding the steps are done in delicately carved and tiled stone mullion with fragments of window lintel also found.
In another section of the dig, long drainage pipe outlets were running off quite some distance around, and in two cases are situated around a large deep sunken bath sized chamber that has the archaeologists completely puzzled at present. It looks like a privy but there are no steps leading in or out from it, so its precise function is currently a mystery. It looks also as if in the various modernisations the house went through, earlier artefacts were re-used decoratively, so stone roof tiles from one period become drain -caps for a later era.
Understandably, much of the find is modern machine brick produced in factory kilns during the 20th century from the house's later history, but some earlier hand-made bricks have been found, often dated from the dimensions (width, length, etc) if the brick. One such brick located dated from as early as 1590, and contained a worker's thumb-print. Simon Askew was quickly able to show that this thumb print couldn't be his own as it was far too small, but that it did match the thumb of a boy of ten in the audience for the talk, and walk around, showing that child labour was used in the brick making of the period, in association to the house.
Cobbled footpaths, and an iron foundation to a blacksmith's Anvil indicate that the stables here were extensive too,. Though this theory now seems less likely as several companion 'foundations' have been found, which makes this seem less likely to be Blacksmith's work-area, though there undoubtedly was one with so many horses at the Hall, along with sheep and goats. It seems the Hall was used as quite a production centre for some time.
The dig has certainly expanded, as much more of the magnificent cobbled path way has been uncovered.
The first of two open days saw up to 450 visitors pass through the Hall area, and the Park to see events unfolding, which included updated talks, field exercises, an opportunity to practice dowsing (which i failed at completely) which i regard with some Skepticism, a set of stocks, in which several of the archaeologists were locked while children threw wet sponges at them, and museum exhibits of the various finds from here and throughout our region were on display.
I was able to get an I dig Moston Tee shirt, and a little booklet outlining the history of the Hall, including a list of its owners over the ages.. During the years 1547 to 1663 the Hall was owned and leased to The Shacklock family, described as lower Gentry.
Each day now the dig produces new finds and new mysteries. I look forward to the main weekend events that will be the last period of public access tot he site before the professionals take over. I will be interested in both a stop and look at the 17th century period and of course what is found from any earlier era, but I fear that short of finding a well preserved Mammoth under there, the dig could well become history soon itself, which would be absolutely criminal. A website, www.idigmoston.co.uk is currently under construction, and I will of course, present this page also as my own record of what I have learned and hope to go on learning from seeing the past uncovered so remarkably close to home.
Instant Polaroid Photographs of visitors were taken of visitors, who were asked to add one word to their photo in magic marker to summarise the Dig for them. I signed in the spirit of local pride, with the word, 'OURS!!!" Others simply used words like 'Great,"' Brilliant', 'Magic', etc, and one child had simply written 'Ice-cream'.
The best quotation on display however was that of local dialect poet Samuel Bamford, from the poem, The Wild Ride Of Lancashire," "The Knight he rode East t'wards the uprising Sun
But the broad heaths of Moston lay silent and dun."
Clearly with history like this at our feet, Moston is far from Dun yet.
The official web page for the Moston Hall Dig is up at http://www.idigmoston.co.uk/
© Copyright. Arthur Chappell
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