Season 1: A summary of the archaeology.
Our two wonderful weeks of excavating at Whitworth Park have now come to an end for this season. Despite some wild weather (and a few sunny days), and some occasionally complicated archaeology, we had an absolutely fantastic team of people working on the Project and as a result we have a range of really exciting findings!
We opened four trenches which are shown on the map [Fig 1]. This map is very useful as it shows both the modern and historical map data and it gives a good idea of the various features from Whitworth Park’s Edwardian hey day that we hoped to find.
In Trench 1 we wanted to explore remains of the pavilion and the lake edge. We initially felt that this would be quite straightforward archaeology and parts of it were. The lake edge and its surrounding features were easily located. We found the remains of the red shale surface that had been used for most of the paths in the Park. We also found a lovely tarmac surface running round the lake and one of the ornamental boulders that children used to play on. The lake itself was bounded by a raised ‘lip’, which can be seen very clearly in the photo shown here, along with the impressions left by the rows of ornamental cobbles that lay just outside of the raised ‘lip’ of the lake [Fig 2]. We know from changes in the old maps, that the lake was converted into a paddling pool at some point in its history and we also hoped to find evidence of when that happened and what changes they made. One feature that almost certainly relates to this is the layer of concrete that we found laid inside the lake edge providing a surface and creating a shallow pool for children to play in. In the deposits above the concrete surface we also found a whole series of milk bottles and other finds. We await specialist analysis of these to find out exactly when they date from, and therefore when the paddling pool was filled in.
We’ll be looking at our evidence carefully over the next few months to see how the construction of the paddling pool impacted on the features around the outside of the lake and whether some of these are in fact later developments that were also put in at the same time. We use the relationships between the archaeological layers, as well as artefacts contained in them to do this. In the case of Whitworth Park we are also lucky to have lots of images and written accounts that we can use as evidence, although sometimes they contradict each other – which of course is part of the excitement of discovery involved in archaeology!
At the other end of Trench 1 the archaeology was more complicated and our findings were disappointing in one way, but exciting in another. The disappointing element was that there were no remains of the foundations of the pavilion, although we did find some glazed tiles and window glass that may have been part of it. If you are familiar with the park then you will know that the location of trench 1 is a large, flat, open piece of ground. To make this area as flat as it is today the original park features were demolished, the demolition material was cleared away and the area was levelled. However, although the pavilion was removed during this time, the layers beneath it were not removed and this was really exciting, as it gave us a glimpse of what the area was like before it was a park and the steps that were taken to make it into a park.
We know that the area was initially boggy and marshy – what was known locally as a moss (hence the adjacent local place names such as Moss Grove and Moss Side Grove that can be seen on the 1848 Ordnance Survey map). However what we found were a series of drainage channels and pipes cut into the natural clay [Fig 3].
We await specialist information on the date of the pipes, but it is likely that these were laid sometime in the 1800s in an attempt to drain the moss and make the area usable. However these efforts at drainage must not have been good enough to provide a sound surface for building upon. We know this because we found that a thick, dense layer of industrial waste with artefacts dating from the 1880s (the decade just before the park was opened) which had been dumped on the natural clay. This would then have been levelled and used as the surface on which the pavilion was built. So although we didn’t find the pavilion, finding evidence of the changes that had been undertaken to make the park in the first place was very exciting.
From all these trenches we also have lots of artefacts which can tell us about how the Park was used. Some of these have already featured on the blog such as the skull and cross bone clay pipe and the coronation medallion. We also have lots of pottery, glass, bottle stoppers, coins and so on. And of course we have evidence of children’s games in the form of marbles, and gaming pieces from ‘5 stones’ a Victorian version of knuckle bones. This is particularly exciting as Parks were special places for children and Whitworth Park was known as ‘Whitworth Children’s Park’ for a while. Over the next two years we’ll be getting artefact specialists to study the finds and tell us more about them so watch this space!
In summary, we had a great first season of work at Whitworth Park this summer. We had a fantastic and diverse team of people working at the site [Fig 6], including University of Manchester archaeology students, unemployed volunteers, members of the Friends of Whitworth Park, and local school children. Without this excellent team we would not have been able to uncover the elements of Whitworth Park’s former paths and architecture that we did. Now that we have had this tantalising glimpse of how the park was used in the past, we really look forward to investigating them further in our next season of excavation.