Salford’s Early Past Pt 3: The First Farmers



The site of the Iron Age enclosure at Great Woolden Hall (promontory in the centre of the image). Photograph courtesy of Prof Nick Higham.

Salford was the first area within Greater Manchester where Iron Age settlement was positively identified through modern excavation. This was in 1986 when a cropmark of a double-ditched enclosure was spotted and photographed by Prof Nick Higham of Manchester University. Evaluation trenching later that year confirmed the presence of early ditches. Since then Iron Age enclosures have been confirmed at Castlesteads in Bury, Rainsough in Prestwich and at Mellor. Recently hints of Iron Age settlement have been found at Barton in Salford  and there are likely to be many more awaiting discovery.


The farmstead at Great Woolden Hall, Cadishead, was excavated from 1986 to 1988 by the Greater Manchester Archaeological Unit. The site lay on a promontory at the western edge of Chat Moss, overlooking the Glaze Brook. The settlement was defined by two outer ditches and an inner bank, with an entrance on the eastern, landward, side. It was probably occupied by an extended family group.


Great Woolden excavated features, c. 100 BC (green) to c. 200 AD (red).

The interior covered one hectare. It contained at least two hut circles (12m and 14m across), hearths, rubbish pits, a roadway, and gullies that may represent stock enclosures. Wood from a posthole in the earliest hut (blue on the plan to the right) was radio-carbon dated to the period 65 BC to 15 BC. Charcoal from the construction trench of the later hut (black on the plan to the right) was radio-carbon dated to the period 120 BC to AD 80. Burnt bone from some of the rubbish pits and postholes showed that pig and sheep were eaten on the site. A broken rotary quern indicated that grain was being processed and was used to make bread, which was baked in one of the several ovens excavated.



VCP from Great Woolden

The excavations at Great Woolden Hall produced pottery fragments of bowls and jars. These included pieces of several jars of salt ware, known as Cheshire VCP (see left). This was used to transport salt from the brine springs of central Cheshire. Fragments of VCP have also been excavated from an ancient field system and settlement at Barton that was occupied in the Roman period and earlier. There was also a large piece of broken pot, with a curved profile and fabric-type. This Gallo-Belgic type jar was imported from southern England.


Great Woolden has become one of the type sites for lowland late prehistoric settlement in the southern part of the North West. Like the Iron Age enclosure at Irby on the Wirral, excavated around the same time by Liverpool Museum, the range of features, finds and activities from this site typify one way of living in the Iron Age.


2 thoughts on “Salford’s Early Past Pt 3: The First Farmers

  1. Hello Dr Nevell. I am the programme coordinator for Bolton Family History Society (local branch of the Manchester and Lancashire FHS) and I attended your recent talk about the Bridgewater Canal in Worsley which was fascinating. I mentioned then that I would like to arrange a talk here in Bolton about the Worsley New Hall project, hopefully in 2018. We meet on the first Wednesday evening of each month a the Old Links Golf Club . I am of course looking particularly at the social history angle of the resident family and also the workers, (many of whom I suspect have Boltonian descendants) . I wonder if you might be able to accept in principle, and hope it might coincide with the opening of the new RHS gardens , so maybe Spring or Summertime??? I look forward to hearing from you.
    Best Wishes

    Jane Milne

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