Excavations planned after historic pottery found at Castleshaw site

TANTALISING pottery fragments are part of an  “exciting find” at an ancient Saddleworth archaeological site.

Norman Redhead

The test pit excavations at Waters Clough, Delph have uncovered wall footings and trenches for a large building which may belong to a grange from medieval times.

The discovery was made by a team headed by Norman Redhead, Heritage Management Director (Archaeology) of Greater Manchester Archaeological Advisory Service School of Environment & Life Sciences.

“This really is the start of a journey for our team,” said Mr Redhead.

“We have done small test pits so far, but the exciting results lead me to believe a larger scale excavation is now required.

“The small pieces of pottery could be a drinking vessel and I interpret the building belonging to the medieval Grange of Friarmere, held by the Cistercian Roche Abbey, near Rotherham, from the late 12th century to the Dissolution of 1538.”

The structure uncovered comprises a central range measuring 20 metres by 10 metres with an east and west range each of 38 metres length.

“This large building was consistently built with 0.5 metre wide walls bonded with an orange clay and lime mortar,” Mr Redhead explained.

“A possible stone-laid track with wagon wheel ruts has been found and the two sherds of medieval Pennine Gritty Ware consistent with a date c1200-1300 for the building.”

Some of the pottery fragments found

Medieval granges were estate farms to provide food surpluses for the mother abbey and intensive farming was undertaken by labourers under the supervision of lay brothers.

The small hamlet of Grange in the Castleshaw Valley may have been the original residence of the lay brothers.

“By the early 14th century many of the granges across the Pennines were divided into smaller plots under tenant farmers,” Mr Redhead added.

“This seems to be the case at Friarmere as five tenant farms are referenced in a document of 1296.

“There may have been intensive cattle ranching, and substantial earthen field boundaries still evident in the landscape. But other activities to exploit the land were probably taking place.

“We know from previous archaeological excavations, there was iron smelting at the head of the valley, archaeo-magnetic and radiocarbon dating suggesting a 13th century origin for this activity.

“The grange also had the rights for land cultivation, stone quarrying, mining, hunting, and perhaps fish ponds. There might even have been a mill.”

The archaeological evaluation has tracked a fraction of the ground plan but revealed an “extraordinarily large” structure with a stone track running from the Roman road to the site.

Mr Redhead said: “We require a concerted archaeological excavation to allow larger areas to be exposed and help us to better understand this fascinating site.”

Excavations are scheduled to begin next May.

The Castleshaw forts were built in Roman times to defend and patrol approaches to the western Pennines from Chester to York.


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