Aspull DMV Survey

In February 2020 our attention was drawn to crop marks appearing on earlier versions Google Earth in a field in Aspull. They only appear in 2012 and 2013 but as they span over 12 months it suggests they are likely to represented something more than just agricultural activity.   What is interesting about the rectilinear shapes of the crop marks is that they have all the hallmarks of a DMV (i.e. a Deserted Medieval Village). A circular feature on the left side of the field could be even be prehistoric. DMV sites can be found all over the country although few occur in the northwest (the nearest examples is perhaps at Tatton Park in Cheshire). Their dates can range across the whole of the early Medieval period although they are usually the result of either the plague or clearance by the lord of the manor to create a park (as was the case at Tatton).

The field lies on the east side of Haigh Road and is bordered on east and north side by and on old railway line which originally led from Wall hey Pit to Heath Field Cannel Pit on the north east corner of the field. The old maps show an old field boundary cutting across the bottom corner of the field but apart from that, nothing else can be seen (the old boundary is also the only thing to show up on LiDAR). Later aerial images on Google Earth also fail to show anything but a Bing Maps image (not sure from what date) does show the field to have a typical herringbone pattern of field drains. Historically there isn’t a lot recorded about Medieval activity in the Aspull area. However there are a few moated sites within a mile or two radius that date from this period – Moat House Farm lies in the grounds of Haigh Hall just north of Copperas Lane – Gidlow Hall which still has its water-filled moat, lies to the south of Dicconson Lane and finally Lower Highfield (now known as Manor House Farm) lies just opposite Duke’s Row on Wigan Lane. Interestingly though Higher Highfield Farm, which dates to the early 18th century, lies just to the south of the field we are investigating. Also an earlier Higher Highfield House is marked on the 1849 OS map – could this have been another Medieval manor house?

Although not much to show historically in this area from the Medieval Period, the crop marks were interesting enough to warrant further investigation. This we could do with a resistivity survey and as the field was only being used for pasture we were confident a date for this could easily be arranged – but then of course the pandemic struck and it is only now, twelve months later, that we’ve been be able to progress this. Luckily we discovered that the field is owned by the farmer at Toddingtons who quite generously allowed us to excavate recently in his fields to the north of the farm (i.e. Mrs Pendlebury’s Milestone and the Well Site on Toddington Lane). The first thing to do though was to create a drawing from the maps and aerial photos so that an area to investigate could be selected that would hopefully identify significant features.As can been seen from this drawing some of the horizontal linear features seem to line up with the field drains detected on the Bing aerial photo. We located our initial scans however, over areas that would hopefully capture some of the sub-rectangular features not related to the field drains and also one of the strong linear features that runs parallel with the Haigh Road.

First Survey Day (Friday 7th May 2021)
We picked a good day for the survey, managing to avoid the hail and thunderstorms which seem to be quite prevalent this month. Our small party of volunteers (due to the current Covid restrictions only six allowed) gathered in the morning at Toddingtons for a site briefing before making our way into the field which was only a short distance away (beside myself attendees included Jim Meehan, Chris Drabble, Christine Barbour-Moore, Dave North and John Smalley). Everybody agreed it was great to be out in the field again and were looking forward to see what we could discover. As usual some time was taken setting up of the survey areas. This was made easier, however, by Patrick and I having set  base line on a previous visit  5 metres offset from the southern fence line. Our first 25 metre x 50 metre scan area was located 25 metres from this into the field and 65 metres southeast of the current fence line running down the centre of the field. Our second scan area was located another 25 metres further into the field but offset 25 metres to the northwest hopefully to catch one of the strong vertical features running parallel with Haigh Road (mentioned earlier).

By mid-afternoon we had completed our second scan (by this time Patrick had joined us and Christine had left thus maintaining or contingent of six). The results however, when loaded onto the computer, were disappointing. The herringbone pattern of the field drainage system was quite clearly revealed suggesting that, as we suspected, this was the cause of most of the linear features. The only other major feature we detected was the old field boundary although it was showing as high resistance suggesting  compacted bank rather than a ditch or perhaps even a stone wall. There are some unexplained features including high resistance at the bottom edge of the scan and with the farmers permission it maybe worthwhile putting in a test pit or two to investigate these. However I think we can forget about the idea that this was once the site of a DMV. We also have the ring feature on the was side of the field which will require another site visit in the near future.

Second Survey Day (Wednesday 26th May 2021)
Anther good turnout albeit with a slightly different crew (this time , I had Andy Wilcock, John Needle and new member Kadie Gray joining me together with Chris Drabble and Patrick). Our target this time was the ring feature in the south west corner of the field. The problem presenting itself though was that it straddled the current fence line. Our strategy therefore was to do two separate scans on either side of the fence line. For ease of marking out we also decided to use the fence line a the base line (although not a permanent feature, it does appear on current maps so scan locations can be easily transferred on our layout drawing).

When doing resistivity scans various things can impede your progress – at Burscough it was stalks tangling the wire, at Blackrod it was cow muck. Here it was the mud – horses had churned up the ground and just walking across the field was a task in itself. Resistivity can be quite frustrating, more often than not we fail to detect anything of significance – we keep going though because occasionally we hit the jackpot like the spectacular results at Burscough. Unfortunately that was not the case on this occasion. We did manage to pick up more of the herringbone pattern of the field drain system we had previously discovered but nothing at all of the ring feature showing from the crop marks (maybe the ground was just too wet to detect the ephemeral features we were looking for).

On both scans we’ve managed to pick up a high reading along the bottom edge but they are big – if not a track, most likely will be natural. We didn’t have time for test pitting on the features revealed from our first trip but we did have time for a quick coring exercise which we did across the major high res feature from our first trip. This revealed sandy stone material at a depth of about half a metre. Our enthusiastic team also managed tiny test pit on the same feature but failed to produced any evidence of man-made activity. This seemed to confirm that this prominent high res anomalies is most likely to be natural.

Ah well at least we tried (it maybe worth a test pit or too across the new anomalies but I suspect we’ll get the same result).

Douglas River Source Trip

As part of the Douglas River Project, last month Eric and I met at Rivington Barn for a trip onto Rivington moor. This was to see if we could trace the route of the River on the moor and perhaps find its source (clues where to look are in the name i.e. Douglas Springs). Having climbed up through the terraces of Lord Leverhulme’s Japanese garden onto Belmont Road, we soon had our first encounter with the River – little more than a stream at this point, it passes through a culvert under the road at a place called Brown Hill. As you can see, I had brought the drone and was determined to use it despite the gusting wind conditions (the light wasn’t the best but the results were good enough for our purposes). From here the River winds its way down the hillside towards Horwich, passing under Rivington Lane at Jespon’s Bridge, then crossing in front of the Lower Reservoir before passing under Bolton Road on its way towards Anderton and Adlington.  Looking the other way, the River can be clearly seen snaking its way up the hillside (the one on the right in the photo below) with the Pike summit in the distance on the left. Our next stop was the boundary stone, just a hundred metres or so further along Belmont Road. It marks the boundary between the metro boroughs of West Lancashire and Greater Manchester. Following the dry stone wall the boundary continues all the way up to the TV mast (up till this point the boundary had been following the River). As we cross into Bolton, the road changes its name to Georges’s Lane and just another hundred metres along is Sportsman’s Cottage, which is now a boarding kennels and small gift shop. Just beside it is the path which takes us onto the moor. The view at the rear of the Cottage shows a well manicured garden, deceptively making you forget you’re on the high moor. The path past the Cottage leads to our next stop i.e. the Two Lads hill and its cairns. There are actually three cairns, the first is a well built and well maintained structure but the other two are basically just piles of stones. However looking more closely, beneath the rubble, circular structure can be detected under the rubble. Many myths seems to be associated with these cairns and there has been periods of collapse and rebuilding have been recorded but I don’t think anybody really knows their origin. Chorley Archaeology Society showed some interest in the 1950’s and carried out some ‘excavations’ there. In his diary published on their website, John Winstanley claims to have found amongst other things Roman artefacts i.e. pottery and glass (a word with  his companion at the time, the venerable Jack Smith, may shed more light on this).

From Two Lads we made our way up towards the Winter Hill TV mast which was quite easy once we located the single track road leading to it. Once there, we noted the Manx Memorial to the air disaster in 1958 when thirty five people lost their lives And also beneath the mast guy ropes, Scotchman’s Stump, a memorial to George Henderson, the Scottish merchant who was shot dead on the moor in 1838. Wandering around the back of the TV station we came across a concrete culvert carrying the track over what we perceived to be the early vestiges of the River. Just a few metres further north from here, Eric point out what he deduced to be the actual source, a spring (or at least one of them, we assumed it to be the highest). It was getting late and feeling we had achieved our goal, we started to make our way back down the hill, looking for the track that would lead us back to the Pike (other sites such as the Winter Hill Cairn and Noon Hill would have to wait for another day). However this is where we came unstuck, marshy ground hidden between the grassy tufts proved our undoing and both at one point time or another ending up on our backsides, knee deep in the bog. We did eventually find the track we were looking for but not before stumbling on strange linear features of light coloured vegetation and mounds of earth (surely not undocumented tumuli). On closer inspection they turned out to be constructed of pit soil and the rubble from brick and stone buildings. This was clear evidence of mining activity in this area. Researching later on the 1849 OS map, we could see there has been extensive coal mining on the moor but this seemed to be confined to the area to the east of the county boundary. Wildersmoor Colliery is marked as having pit shafts either side of the road leading up to the top of Winter Hill and Holders Colliery is shown further east but nothing is shown in the area we were at. Having found the track we quickly made are way back off the moor towards the Pike and eventually came across our last encounter with the River, i.e. footbridge leading us to the back of the Pike. Here I decided to have another go with the drone but this time the wind was too strong and soon realising its limitations, I returned it to base before I lost control of it altogether.
It was time to pack up and head off home, this time following the track round the back of the Pike. It had been quite a successful day and Eric and I thoroughly enjoyed it (despite the mud). The intention is to return perhaps with better weather conditions to get some good drone shots and also visit the sites we missed (i.e. Winter Hill Cairn and Noon Hill). The sites we did visit are indicated with orange stars on the map below.
For more information about the mining activity on Winter Hill Dave Lane’s website gives a fascinating insight into an industry that was still active as late as the 1960s

Roman Road Research Online

Lockdown has given me the opportunity to catch up with all the research we have carried out over years on the Roman roads in our area. Our investigations go back to the earliest days of the Society – we made our first foray into the field as early as 1985. However our researches began even earlier when, in 1983, we produced our first report on the road leading north out of Wigan. You can now see all this work here  .Also

Wigan to Walton-le-Dale
Wigan to Warrington
Wigan to Manchester
Wigan to Burscough
Wigan to Ribchester

St Wilfrid’s Ledger Stones Survey

Following on from our Graffiti Survey last year in the Parish Church at Standish, it has been our intention to record the grave slabs (ledger stones) inside the church. These were exposed when the carpets were removed last year. These ledger stones have not seen the light of day in a good many years and we thought it would be a shame for them disappear again without being properly recorded. You can follow our progress here.

GM Festival of Archaeology 2019 (Toddington Lane Well Site)

Another great festival weekend with eleven bodies on our site at Toddingtons on Saturday and a further nine on Sunday – including a total of seven members of the general public. We also had a good number of visitors stopping by over the two days inquiring about our activity on our Well Site, which is on the west side of Toddington Lane at Haigh. 
We were looking for the old well marked on the 1849 OS but not on any later maps, and also evidence of the possible Roman road linking Wigan with Ribchester. You can follow our activities on our site diary here.

Eye in the Sky

We bought our new drone in October last year after being inspired by our unusually dry summer. It was obviously too late for us to take advantage of those conditions but we have found plenty of opportunities to try out our new toy. This last week has been no exception – with the unusually warm and sunny weather for this time of year, we took advantage of the ideal conditions to visit sites north of Coppull at :-
Row High Wood and
Charnock Richard where the line of the Roman road extends towards Euxton – also
Pingot Valley where 4 years ago we looked for remains of The Arches viaduct, and
Dean Lock a new site for us on the Douglas Navigation where the remains of a river lock may have survived.

GM Festival of Archaeology (& Brimelow Farm Open Day)

The weekend Festival and Open Day was a great success with a good number of volunteers and many visitors over the two-day event. Friday volunteer numbers were down (probably as it’s a weekday) but, on Saturday, we were oversubscribed.

Saturday’s volunteers and crew. Left to right: Chon, Tracey, Al, Darren, Alex, Vanessa, Bill, Patrick, Andy and Mark. Front row: Lily, Indiana (Bones) the dog and Lucas.

Throughout the two days we had a constant stream of visitors, particularly from the local residence who were keen to have a look at the Roman road we had discovered on their door step (encourage to have a look by Trevor acting as gatekeeper).  It was particularly pleasing to see David Ratledge who hasn’t been too well recently – his Gazetteer of Roman Roads in Lancashire is quite comprehensive (and he’s currently working on roads in Cheshire – we all wish him well on this project).

Friday’s contingent: Left to right Patrick, Andy, Dave North, Mark, Dave Flanagan and Tony Boylan

Much Progress was made on searching for the Roman road between Wigan and Walton-le-Dale and you can see the details of our work here.