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No.110 February 2008

Monthly Newsletter

St William's School Excavations

January turned out to be one of the wettest months on record. Despite this we manage to undertake a series of excavations in St William's School playing fields in search of the Roman Road. We were also able to involve children from this school and two others in the Wigan area - Ince CE Primary and Kingsdown High.

We started on Friday 18th using a hired excavator (skilfully driven by Mark Hayward), clearing a 10m area along the old school wall to prepare the site. A 1m wide test pit was then opened 6m from the wall and 14m in from the south corner. Working southwards, the trench was opened to a depth of 50cm. It soon became apparent that the underlying sub-soil at this location was a deep fill of ash. It was also apparent that the water table here was quite high and would therefore cause problems during deeper excavations.

It was decided for safety reasons that the area prepared for the school children would be restricted to no more than 40cm deep. An area 6m x 3m was marked out for this purpose 20m from the corner and 7m from the wall. We also took the opportunity to dig a 1m square test pit by hand (to minimise field disturbance) on the other side of the 10m line, 17m from the corner. Its location was positioned over the anomaly picked up on the resistivity survey. Again, the water table was reached at 50cm. This time, however, the fill consisted of soil and builders rubble. It became obvious that this represented the feature detected by the survey, and not the Roman Road, which if it exists must be at a much deeper level.

Schools' Participation

Heavy rain in the following days meant that we had to postpone the start the schools' participation programme for one week. However, it was worth the wait as it turned out to be a great success with groups of children coming down for 1-hour sessions on 3 successive days. Great credit is due to all those members who came down on the various days to help out. Particular credit must go to Mark Hayward who set up the site and Brian Parr who organised the whole thing. The school children were well behaved and very interested in what we were up to - a great credit to their schools and teachers.

Trial Trench

The trial trench opened on the Friday was eventually extended down to the natural subsoil layer at a depth of 2m. Using the excavator bucket, Mark was able to keep the water out long enough for observations to be made of the section. Layers of ash with 19th century domestic artefacts made up the section to a depth of 1m. Under this was a thin layer of black humus material similar to that found at Leaway. Underneath this was a 10cm band of clay which sat on a layer of stone. This lay on top of light sandy clay which represented the natural sub-soil. In parts, the stony layer looked quite possibly man-made (angulated yellow stone blocks) but in other areas it was in the form of lose shale and difficult to come to any other conclusion other than it was a natural deposit. In the forthcoming week the intention is to invite other local schools and open a second trench further along the old school wall. This will ensure we have fully covered this area. If we are unsuccessful in locating the Roman Road, Brian has plans to investigate the area around the end of George Street which we hope to start later this month.


We are still in the process of completing this year's programme but we have already booked Steve Hewlit for March who will be talking on "The Geology of Archaeology in the Wigan area". Also in September we have Ben Edwards talking on "Roman Cavalry Tombstones" and Mark Fletcher in December on "Archaeology and History of Latham and Up-Holland."

Next Meeting

Wednesday 6th February at the District Scout HQ (Baden Powell Centre) in Greenough Street, starting at 7.30 pm as usual. This month is our AGM and membership renewal. This year there is even more incentive to join the Society as Dave Horrocks has added a Members-Only Forum on our website. After the usual formalities I will be reviewing this year's field work including the current work at St William's School.
Hope to see you there B.A.