Saturday, December 28, 2013

Book: Coal, cotton and chemicals: the industrial archaeology of Clayton

Clayton has attracted surprisingly little attention from historians, and yet this historic manor has a fascinating heritage.  The medieval heart of the are was focused on Clayton Hall, a moated manor house that originated in the 12th century.  This was set in a sparsely populated rural landscape beyond the eastern fringe of Manchester until the mid 19th century, when Clayton was transfomed into an important industrial area, and developed a reputation as a key centre for the production of chemicals, essential to numerous other industries.  This booklet recounts the rich history of Clayton, and summarises the archaeological excavations carried out in 2010-12 at two of the principal chemical works, together with a textile mill, a colliery and a suite of workers' housing.

This booklet has a lot of details about Clayton's Fire Brick Works and is number 9 in the Greater Manchester's Past Revealed series.  The booklet costs £5.00 and the ISBN is 9781907686146.  A search on the Web brought up no details as to how to get hold of the publication, but it was published by Oxford Archaeology North.

Further information can be found about the Fire Brick Works on the Old Bricks: England website.  Click here, and then scroll down to Williams, Bradford, Manchester.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Book: Uncovering the estate: the archaeology of Dunham Massey

The Dunham Massey Estate forms a significant National Trust property, straddling the borders of Cheshire East and Greater Manchester.  From the medieval period onwards, the estate passed through a succession of influential families, including the de Mascys, the Booths , and latterly the Greys, who shaped the history of Dunham and the wider region.  At the centre of the estate lies the large stately home of Dunham Hall.  This was built in the early 18th century by Sir George Booth, the second Earl of Warrington, and was modified and restored in the early 20th century by William Grey, the ninth Earl of Stamford.  The hall is surrounded by an extensive medieval deer park, which was replanted and redesigned in the 18th century to form a spectacular formal landscape.  This booklet represents the findings of several archaeological excavations and surveys within the deer park and across the wider area, which provide an indight into the rich and complex history of the Dunham Massey Estate.

For the brick-minded, this site is particularly distinguished by having a probable brick clamp kiln (see above).

This booklet is number 10 in the Great Manchester's Past Revealed series.  It costs £5.00 and the ISBN is 9781907686153. A search of the Web does not give the place to buy it from, but it was published by Oxford Archaeology North.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Book: Timperley Old Hall - the excavation of the moated platform

Timperley Old Hall moat is one of the oldest inhabited places in Trafford.  Stone tools indicate prehistoric activity in the Neolithic and early Bronze Ages.  The site was re-used again, briefly, in the mid-Saxon period.  From the 13th to the 18th centuries it was the home of the de Timperleigh, de Mascy and Brereton families. It fell into decay during the 18th century and was demolished by 1800.  Between 1989 and 1996 excavations revealed thousands of medieval aretacts, the foundation for the hall, and a timber-lined well.  In 2010, a community archaeology project, led by the South Trafford Archaeological Group, set out to rediscover the ancient manorial site and to make the remains accessible to the general public.  This booklet records the progress of that project as the 21st century inhabitants of Timperley explore the archaeology of the old hall and the history of some of its 
 occupants, making this ancient site available to a wider public.

If it appears on this blog, there is, of course, some brick or tile interest.  Here it appears in the form of some glazed ridge tile! (see above)

This publication is number 8 of the Greater Manchester's Past Revealed series, which comprise a growing collection of full-colour, nicely detailed, booklets about various aspect of archaeology in the area.  The cost is a very reseaonable £5.00.  The ISBN is 095659474-3.  A search on the Web did not find any details of how to obtain this particular booklet, but it was published by the Centre for Applied Archaeology at the Unversity of Salford. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Review: The Lion and the Lamb by John Henry Clay

This book review appeared in the Historical Novel Review Issue 65, November 2013:

Britannia in the 4th century is very different to the earlier centuries of Roman occupation. By this time, Roman rule is settled, with the elite deeming themselves Roman but still retaining some of the old tribal ideals. This is where the story of brother and sister Paul and Amanda and Irish Eachna is played out. Paul and Amanda live in the rich villa country of the south, but circumstances see Paul fleeing his home and joining the beleaguered Roman Army in the north. Meanwhile Amanda is witness to the wider politics of late Roman Britain in all its complexity. Eachna is enslaved, cruelly, and escapes southward toward Hadrian’s Wall and another life.

This book very much feels as though the author had ideas of the story he wanted to tell, perhaps showing how different the Late Roman era was from the earlier Empire. So a series of marks need to be hit, such as Christianity, politics, slavery, army, civilians, etc. But this means that the plot rather exceeds the characters. For the most part, the story of the individuals does not really leap off the page, except for a few scenes where it really shines. There are one or two slips in material culture: were there hairbrushes in 4th- century Britain? Would a character view the sky as being velvet? But overall the setting feels authentic, and the plot succeeds in showing that by the 4th century the Empire was becoming unstable, and changing into something very different.

This review can be found online on the Historical Novel Society's website at:

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Friargate Dig - yes it has bricks!

I'll be dropping in to have a look at this site on the Bank Holiday, mostly to see what brick and tile they have :D  Sounds like it'll be a very interesting event, so do pop in if you can!

Additional 12/1/14.  There is a blog for this project here.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Random Windmills: Shiremark, Capel, Surrey, UK

My interest in this mill came about whilst watching a 1958 black and white film called The Battle of the V1. Suddenly there was a slow shot of a smock windmill, moving from its boat cap down to its base.  Which windmill was it?  And what had happened to it since 1958?

Though the film was about the V1 rockets made in Peenemünde, Germany in the 1940s, I never really considered that the windmill might be situated in Germany.  A quick look on the Internet confirmed the film had been made in and around the the Shoreham area near the south coast of the UK. All I knew about the the mill was that it was a smock mill with a boat cap.  I really don't know enough about the mills down there - I'm very much a beginner in windmills, and my main area of any sort of knowledge is Yorkshire.  Who to ask?  I immediately thought of the wonderful Windmill Hoppers on Facebook.  Their knowledge is amazing and people normally get a reply to queries (and challenges!) within an hour.

So, just in case it was well known amongst windmill fans which windmill it was, I put a speculative post to the group.  Meanwhile, I realised that the film would be repeated on one of the those 'plus one' channels.  Having found that, I set it for recording.  "Any chance of screen shots?" the Windmill Hoppers asked. "Of course!" I replied, and set about doing the deed:

Such a shame the film is in black and white.  These three screen shots more or less reflect what's shown. It's one long vertical shot of the windmill, starting from the top and moving down to the base. There is no long shot of it at all, and the only other feature to be seen is some branches on the left.

The Windmill Hoppers narrowed it down after seeing the shots. Someone suggested this photo from the Muggeridge Collection:

It looked possible in the picture from 1955, but no cottage was shown in the film.  However, if the film camera was perhaps standing with its back to the cottage, may be it would have got the vertical shot we see in the movie.  I looked closer at the Muggeridge Collection which I had used for my article on the Windmills in the Evelyn Collection (more of that in a later blog).

The Muggeridge Collection had some other useful photographs, one of which was from a similar angle to that of the film: 

In particular, the pattern of damage seems to map quite well, given that the Muggeridge photograph is from 1953, and that from the film is 1958 (or may be 1957, depending on how quickly the film was released).  It's well worth searching the Muggeridge collection as there are many more images of the windmill there.

A broader search of the Internet brought up further images:

This picture is from c1919 and is by Ernest C Charles.  It's good to see the windmill with sails!  Apparently they dropped off one by one until there were none by the 1950s.

Here's another one by Charles, again 1919 - angle similar to one of those from the Muggerigdge Collection:

Both the pictures show some damage to the cap and the sails.

Other Windmill Hoppers commented later that up to around the late 1950s the windmill might have been restored, but after that it was ravaged by vandals and storms.  It was set on fire in the early 1970s which stopped any ideas of being restored.  However, on the Web I came across a planning document dated 2010 which shows that someone wants to rebuild the mill completely. Here's a picture from the report showing the remains of the base of the windmill - yes, the windmill has bricks :D

Apparently, the  plans of the mill building are similar to that in K.G. Farries and M.T. Mason The Windmills of Surrey and Inner London, 1966.

Here's the mill's entry on Wiki, usual caveats apply!

And Mike (see comment below) brought these to my attention. Shiremark in around 1938 (links only as trying to show pix inline doesn't seem to work in flickr):

Friday, August 09, 2013

Review: Shadows in the Night By Jane Finnis

This book review Appeared in Historical Novel Review Issue 64, May 2013:

This is the first in Jane Finnis’ Aurelia Marcella Mysteries, so we are introduced to the eponymous heroine who is the manager of the Oak Tree Mansio – a way station for the Roman Army travelling to Eburacum – offering a comfortable bed for the night, good food, and a change of mount. A perfect place to see all the life and intrigue of Roman Britain go by. Her brother is the absentee owner of the place, so it is very much first-person narrator Aurelia’s business, which she runs with the help of her sister.

When Aurelia finds what she thinks at first is a dead body outside the Mansio, there is bound to be further trouble. This is recently colonised Britannia in the first century AD, and there is still a great division between the Romans and the Britons who accept the Roman way of life, and those Britons who resent the occupation. It is this that drives the story, and which makes it thoroughly plausible. Warmly recommended.
Online at:

NB: This book was  first published under the title 'Get out or die'

Review: The Lion and The Lamb by John Henry Clay

Have just submitted my review of this book to the Historical Novel Society, so can't say much till the review is published, and then it will appear here.  Meanwhile, enjoy Sarah Cuthbertson's interview with the author -

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Romans in Ravenglass

Bit of a hiatus on this blog due to a move in job which ultimately proved rather difficult for me to maintain (too much travelling and a lot of covering for staff absences, involving frequent changing of days).  But the old warhorse is now out in the field again come this September. I will be at Ravenglass, helping my partner with his excavations! 

We visited the bathouse way back in the 1980s and still have some slides from that time. Little did we realise that we'd be revisiting it with a vengeance and to dig holes :)  Anyway, we're up in Cumbria for most of September, along with a few visits of a couple of days' duration to attend meetings and the like.  So it's a busy summer for us.