Over the last few weeks there has been much activity at our Toddington Lane site (Mrs Pendlebury’s Milestone), including the GM Festival of Archaeology where volunteers from the general public were invited to join in. We’ve even had 3D models made of our trenches, kindly produced by one of our volunteers, Lee McStein, who is a specialist with this sort of thing (3D-Trench 1 – 3D-Trench 3).
This month we have started excavating this roadside stone which Mrs Pendlebury is convinced is Roman. Her reason for thinking this is that it lies near where she lives in Haigh on Toddington Lane which is thought to be the Roman Road from Wigan to Ribchester. You can see the reason for thinking this here. The stone, which was broken a few years ago by an excavator, is obviously not Roman and may not even be a milestone, but what exactly is it. You can follow our progress finding out what it is here.
Great turn out last Sunday for our trip to Lancaster, this year supplemented by a contingent from the Wyre Group and a group of friends from the Bolton Society (more details here).
After some rearranging, we managed to get Trevor Boardman to take us out last month on a short tour of Borsdane Wood. Trevor had previously mentioned that there were some strange and puzzling features in the wood that perhaps we weren’t aware of and maybe we could suggest an explanation for. Having grown up in Hindley, I thought there was little I didn’t know about the wood and I was therefore intrigued and perhaps a little sceptical about what Trevor was claiming.As our group assembled at the Hindley end of the wood in front of the tunnels, Trevor immediately began to tell us what he thought of them. Controversially he was suggesting that far from being the masterpiece of Victorian engineering we all admired, it was a botch job in his opinion with changes of design having to be made throughout its construction.His first evidence was the capping stones running along the top of the entrance’s parapet. On the right side the stones curve round to form a smooth interface with the side wall. On the left side however the stones abruptly disappear behind the huge stone buttress. Trevor suggests this wall had to be added at a later date to prevent the steep embankment from collapsing the brick parapet. He also suggests that the second huge stone buttress was added between the tunnels once again to shore up the brick wall in the centre of the two tunnels. It is true that these buttresses are not integrated into the wall but lie up against it.(View of the tunnels from the late 70’s.)
Trevor’s second piece of evidence was the arrangement of brick buttresses which span down the length of the river tunnel keeping the walls apart. These are irregular in width and position suggests they were added later perhaps when realising the walls needed shoring, perhaps replacing temporary wood baulks put in as the tunnel built up. Trevor reasons that a tunnel this high would normally be a figure of eight design or perhaps a series of arches on top of each other as the Romans did with their aqueducts. This arrangement looks like they just hadn’t thought it through.
Lastly Trevor pointed to the wall on the wood side of the tunnel with its irregular construction again suggest changes during the building phase. This time the parapet wall and buttresses are made from blue engineering brick which is stronger and more water resistant. The left hand buttress has horizontal courses whereas the central buttress courses are at 45 degrees. It also looks like the parapet wall has been heightened leaving a row of capping stones in-situ at a lower level.
Not knowing the full history of its construction it’s difficult to say whether Trevor is right, maybe the tunnel was extended on this side at a later date to accommodate an extra line. I do know that the line was started in 1845 and initially called the Liverpool and Bury Railway. By the time it was finished in 1848 it had changed its name to the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. Whether you agree with Trevor or not the tunnels seem to me to be quite a feat of engineering for their day and still in working condition after 170 years.Next Trevor took us to look at the site of the cotton mill that was demolished soon after the turn of the 19th century. In its day it had both water and steam power with a large mill pond to the north which is still evident. The mill site itself if completely overgrown but I remember an excavation there in the mid 60’s carried out I think by pupils from Argyll Street School. They uncovered huge stone machine beds which I presume are still there but may well be buried under wash from the adjacent hillside.6 inch OS map of 1849
Trevor was keen to explain how the mill pond was fed with water and so a little further into the wood he showed us the remains of the leat or race leading off to the north of the pond. However as this ditch approaches the path it disappears, so where did the water come from? Trevor took us along the path to a culvert passed under the footpath taking water from a small valley leading off to the left. He told us to examine the small valley and see if we could spot anything. Sure enough in the stream bed were loose bricks and little further up we could see the source, the remains of a brick-lined culvert, the head of which was the remains of a small dam. Trevor’s contention is that this stream was the source of the water for the mill pond. This seems quite feasible as the stream actually comes all the way from Hall Lane where there is a reservoir in the grounds of Hindley Hall. Trevor says this was used to store water ready to fill the mill pond when needed.I was quite surprised by this as I always thought that the water came from Borsdane Brook as there is the weir at a place we always referred to as Flag Bottom. However how the water got from the weir to the mill pond is not very obvious and landscaping in the 80’s has made it impossible to find out. The 6 inch OS map of 1849 however does show the leat going all the way back to the weir, albeit through a tunnel. I seem to remember the entrance to a square shaped stone-lined tunnel on the west bank of the Brook but all traces have now disappeared due to the landscaping. The OS map shows Trevor’s stream running into the leat as well as a stream from the opposite bank. It seems obvious therefore that the mill pond was fed by a sophisticated water management system designed to maintain a constant supply which is need to keep the mill wheels working through all weather conditions.The last site Trevor took us to was located on the other side of the Brook where the trees open up into a clearing of level ground. As a child I played in this field many times but never spotted the next think Trevor pointed out to us. Running the full length of the field from north to south we could see parallel ditches approximately 4.5 metres apart. The field is not as clear as I remember it and was probably completely devoid of trees not that long ago. The ditches seem to be part of some field system but I’ve no idea what age. Medieval ridge and furrow is quite rare in this part of the country and usually has a slight ‘S’ shaped curve to it. These ditches are completely straight with little or no ridge in between. Very similar field systems can be seen in other parts of our region. In fact when investigating the line of the Roman road in Standish we came across exactly the same pattern in fields between Wakefield’s Farm and Roundmoor farm.This was a great trip and Trevor has certainly left us with some interesting questions which hopefully we’ll be able to answer in the near future.
Last year David Ratledge gave the Society a talk on recent discoveries he had made using LiDAR imaging. Of particular interest to us was this image of what he suggests is the Roman road between Coppull and Charnock Richard. It crosses a field called Row High Wood (see below) and looked quite promising so we thought we better have a look (more details here).
As mentioned in our recent Newsletter Sygma Solutions, who are based in Westhoughton, have offered the use of their Ground Penetrating Radar machines to survey local heritage sites. This includes free training, so last Monday a team of 5 (myself, Eric, Neil, Darren and Andy) went to their office in Daisy Hill for a morning’s training session. We were met by Mike Langton, who is not only their chief trainer but also teaches GPR to archaeological students at Bradford University (in fact he has appear on a number Time Team episode). He explained that the course normally took 3 days but as we were already familiar with geophysic techniques, our abridged course should be sufficient. The machines they are making available for us, use the latest technology and are capable of producing 3D images in the field. Additionally, if necessary, the data can be downloaded and they will ‘post-process’ it for us with their sophisticated software.
After lunch, with the knowledge gained, we made our way to Haigh Hall where we had previously obtained permission to carry out a demonstration of the equipment. The area selected was on the terrace between the Stables Cafe and the Hall.Mike explained that the unit is capable of ‘seeing’ up to 8 metres deep depending on ground conditions but in general 2.5 metres gives best result. After some general prospecting Mike showed us how to mark out a 10m x 10m grid and proceeded to carry out the survey (readings are taken every 5cm with scan run spacing of 50cm). After a while he left us to it and we completed the survey (which included a second scan at 90 degrees to the first) in about an hour.The reason we had selected this particular area for the survey was that a desk-based assessment done by the GMAU a few years ago had indicated buildings here prior the building of the Stable block in the mid 19th century – and indeed the results showed structural remains at various depths from 30cms to just over a metre. The scan shown below is at 90cm, which was typical with a strong feature (maybe a wall) running at an angle to our gridlines and a structural feature running perpendicular to it.
We are now quite familiar with the equipment and, given the opportunity, we would be able to complete a full survey of the area. This would give us a comprehensive picture of the archaeology in a area which maybe subject to development in the near future. We would like to thank Peter Ashcroft of Sygma Solutions for organising the day and Wigan Council for allowing us on site.
While on site we were join by Patrick and after the survey he suggested we take a look at some ruins he’d spot alongside the path leading into the plantations (maybe it was the reputed summer house shown on early paintings and engravings)A tape measure showed the remains to cover an area over 15 metres long (50 feet) with features such as stone window frames and stone box structures. On the OS map of 1893 the ruins are marked as Park Cottages – they are also shown on the 18th century estate map therefore must be of some age. The suggestion is that they would make a good subject for a future surveying project.
Sunday 23rd November. A few weeks ago Trevor Boardman from the Greenheart Project contacted our Society asking about our knowledge of the Leyland Mill Iron Works (Haigh Foundry) and in particular the canal and railway that linked it to the coalfields around Whelley. I had heard of their existence but had no idea where they ran or if there was still evidence on the ground. His offer to show us the routes of these early transport links therefore, was an opportunity we couldn’t miss. So at quite short notice a field trip was quickly arranged.
The few of us who could make it met with Trevor at the Plantation Gates in Whelley. This is just south of the where the Whelley Loop line used to cross the main road to Aspull. Dismantled and made into a public footpath, this line originally opened in the late 19th century creating a by-pass from the L & Y line to the Northwest main line. Our tour started here as the construction of the line has destroyed any evidence of the canal and railway anywhere east of this point.
We weren’t long into our walk when Trevor showed us the first evidence of the canal – a ditch halfway up the side of the embankment. I must admit it wasn’t convincing but as we progressed further down the path and crossed the tarmac road leading to the hall, we found ourselves on a level metalled track. This did look like the embankment of a railway but the ditch running along side did not look particularly canal-like (it could have been just a depression caused by the embankment). However as we progressed along the track, a bank started to develop separating the railway from the ditch. The ditch was also getting wider and thus more convincing as a canal.
Rounding the next bend the canal feature seemed to take a shortcut through a cutting, the rail track however taking a wider sweep. Further on the track began to separate from the canal and started to go downwards on a gentle slope. The canal however remained level. After a short while the canal ditch ended up in a small body of water which was held back by a dam with a foot bridge over it. This was obviously the source of the water for the canal. On the other side of the water the canal continued and any doubt that it was a canal was removed as it was now full of water. After passing a disused stone quarry, we eventually we arrived at our destination i.e. Leyland Mill which is now occupied by industrial units. Here the canal stops abruptly as a steep precipice overlooking the mill site prevents it progressing any further. Material would have to be unloaded from the barges here and lowered down to the factory site. In the distance we could see the bridge carrying Leyland Mill lane and beyond more factories some dating to the 19th century. The major mill buildings from the days of the foundry no longer exist but there other buildings and workshops that have survived.
Lord Lindsay, the Earl of Balcarres, established his Iron Works here in 1788 running two blast furnaces and a cupula furnace for re-melting the scrap iron. There were also forges here and also at Brock Mill just a few hundred metres up stream. The theory is that the canal was built to supply the foundry with the quantities of coal required for the smelting and forging. At some point in time the railway line was added to replaced the canal as it was able to run into the works thus avoiding the steep precipice. Smelting ended on the site sometime before 1815 but the engineering works continued until the mid 19th century. It would become well know for producing steam engines and other machinery including the famous Laxey Wheel on the Isle of Man.
The canal and railway are fascinating rare fragments Wigan’s early industrial heritage predating the huge Kirkless Iron Works site by over 70 years. In deed when Haigh Hall was rebuilt in the mid 19th century the estate was landscaped and planted with the ubiquitous rhododendrons – thus sweeping away much of the eyesores left by the many years of intensive coal mining. Studying the 1849 6 inch OS map shows that, apart from the small body of water, there is no sign of the canal or the railway. We are very lucky therefore that evidence for them still survives.
A good project for the Society would be to survey the route properly producing an accurate map (a surveyed was carried out by Donald Anderson when the features were first identified. However this was a height survey to establish that the canal was in deed level and the inclination for the railway wasn’t to great. If we could get permission to dig we could also answer other questions such as how wide the canal was and whether it actually did predate the railway. It would be useful to confirm the date of the canal (mining has been carried out on this estate since at least the 16th century) but proving its age might prove quite difficult.Culvert running under the substantial railway embankment
Worries about the weather and traffic problems turned out to be unfounded as our trip to Sandal Castle near Wakefield and Castleshaw Roman Fort went off without a hitch – more details here…
What a great day we had on Sunday. Our first site, the Iron Age Hill Fort at Bodfari in North Wales meant a steep climb but it was well worth it. We were met by Gary Lock, emeritus Professor of Archaeology at Oxford University, who has been excavating here for a few seasons now…. more details here
This was our first visit to this site since last September. Surprisingly the trench we left open has survived quite well and it didn’t take us long to clear it of mud and rotting leaves (we didn’t even have to pump the water out). More detail in our Rectory Project Archive –Area 1).