Industrial Archaeology and CBA North West

Bottle ended puddling hearth at Ashbury’s Iron Works, Manchester

The autumn is one of the peak seasons for archaeological get-togethers.1 Whether it’s an international academic conference in Spain or a local society evening talk it can be a frustrating season with events clashing and too many conferences at the weekends for comfort. In North West England one autumn conference has been a regular fixture for more than 30 years: the annual get-together of the Council for British Archaeology North West.

CBA North West2 is one of the regional groups linked with the national Council for British Archaeology (CBA) and has been running since at least the 1970s. The group covers the modern counties of Cheshire and Lancashire, plus the metropolitan areas of Greater Manchester and Merseyside. CBA North West holds two meetings a year, and sends out newsletters and a journal, as well as working behind the scenes to protect and enhance the historic environment: and there is much to protect and enhance. The North West is a region with an archaeology as diverse as its landscape, from the Mesolithic remains on the moors, to internationally significant iconic monuments of the Industrial Revolution.3 This, combined with development hotspots, internationally renowned museums, and six universities undertaking archaeological activity, has created a huge interest in the past, reflected by the high visitor numbers to archaeological and historic sites, and an increasing number of local societies and community groups.

CBA North West is at the heart of this dynamic network, and as the new Chair I wanted to ensure that our annual conference continued to reflect this vigorous activity. Traditionally, the autumn conference has brought together individuals, local voluntary groups, professional bodies, academics, and heritage partners. The theme for this year was the Archaeology of Industrialisation, which is appropriate as the CBA was the first organisation to promote Industrial Archaeology, in 1959, and this year saw the publication by the CBA of Industrial Archaeology: A Handbook authored by Marilyn Palmer, Michael Nevell and Mark Sissons. CBA North West has also published significant articles on industrialisation and industrial archaeology in the last decade through our journal Archaeology North West

We had a record turnout (for recent meetings) in Wilmslow with over 80 people, with many delegates new to the CBA. This was helped in part by the support of the North West Industrial Archaeology Panel, but also reflects the continuing popularity of Industrial Archaeology. Dr Andy Myers of the Greater Manchester Archaeological Advisory Service, based at the University of Salford, talked about the excavation of the Ashbury’s Iron Works in east Manchester and how professional and volunteer archaeologists co-operated on this large industrial archaeology project. Participants found out from Ian Miller about excavations of workers’ housing in Angel Meadow in central Manchester and what this tells us about how conditions changed as industrialisation intensified. The conference also heard from Oxford Archaeology’s Caroline Raynor about the findings of a major excavation and museum development at Liverpool’s Old Dock. Moving away from urban archaeology, speakers from Wilmslow Community Archaeology looked at industry in rural settings and I was able to share interpretations of the archaeology of the textile mill, through the excavations at Wilmslow’s own Carr Mill. We followed this with a tour of the nearby Quarry Bank Mill textile village.

A conference such as this is a great focus for the community, with members and non-members getting together to share local knowledge and make connections of their own. It’s also an important way of telling a wider audience about develop-funded excavations across the region. Finally, participants have the opportunity to make a difference by finding out how they can get more involved with CBA North West, and by supporting the CBA4, thereby helping to sustain archaeology for the future at a national level as well as locally.

1) See my earlier blog on ‘Conferencing Archaeology’.


3) Brennand M with Chitty G & Nevell M, 2006, The Archaeology of North West England. An Archaeological Research Framework for North West England: Volume 1 Resource Assessment. ALGAO, English Heritage & CBA North West.



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