The South Trafford Archaeological Group Pt 1 – How it all began

Fig 1 The Deansgate Dig 1972

The Deansgate Dig, Castlefield, Manchester and its successors in the late 1970s were a meeting place for many volunteers including the founders of STAG

With any long-running group or society precisely how it all began tends to fade unless consciously recorded close to the time – so it is with the South Trafford Archaeological Group (STAG) who celebrate their 40th anniversary this October. Only a few of the original committee are left and the group’s own newsletter (Browsings), though first published in February 1980 and still going strong, doesn’t have a contemporary account. One of the aims of this year’s celebrations is to record the founding of the group, review the many sites that STAG has researched in the last four decades, and of course look to the future.

The first event to mark the anniversary was on Saturday 18th May when STAG held a ‘Handling the Roman Past’ day school at Altrincham town hall. The theme for the day was recent Roman archaeology research in the region. 43 people assembled to hear talks on the Roman roads around Wigan (by Wigan Archaeology Society), new light on the military sites at Manchester (Oliver Wood) and Northwich (myself and Kerry Beeston), recent Roman coin hoards from the region (Jane Darwen), and the lost Romano-British farmstead of Rainsough (STAG honorary member Craig Brisbane). There was also an opportunity to handle Roman finds excavated by STAG from several sites, including Northwich and Rainsough.

This theme was partly chosen to commemorate our first chair, Derek Pierce, who was particularly keen on Roman archaeology and who worked for many years with Professor Barry Jones of the University of Manchester on sites at Roman Manchester and Roman Northwich. Derek was one of several volunteers working on Barry’s Manchester digs in the late 1970s who lived in south Manchester.


The OxNoble public house on Liverpool Road, Manchester

Dave Stanley, one of the surviving founder members, began the day school by recalling how STAG came about. Volunteers on the Deansgate weekend digs often ended the day at one of the local pubs. Thus, a group were sitting in the Oxnoble pub on Liverpool Road in the summer of 1979 when someone (we don’t know who), noted that many of the volunteers lived in south Manchester, but there was no local archaeology society to join. ‘Why don’t we found one?’, someone suggested.

As Derek Pierce was the Chair of a canoeing club in Llangollen he was thought the best person to be chair of the new group, whilst Pat Faulkner as a secretary for a local building firm, was persuaded to take on the secretary’s role for STAG. That first committee comprised Derek, Pat Faulkner, Stuart Gates, Erik Olive, Phillip Osmond, Dave Stanley and Sue Watts. Thus STAG was born.

In the early years Group meetings were held at Altrincham Library, advertisements in the local libraries and papers bringing in new members, whilst the ‘Browsings’ newsletter kept members informed of lecturers, trips, excavations, and building recording. By February 1980 there were 30 STAG members. The group immediately set about exploring the town’s roots, the first two sites to be investigated being a pond sluice in Dunham Park and Woodhouse Farm in Sale in late 1979; but more of those in a later blog.

Such local society spin-offs from larger community projects are very common. Later in the 1990s the Tameside Archaeology Society would emerge out of the Tameside Archaeology Survey, whilst in the 2000s Dig Manchester and its successor Dig Greater Manchester would both inspire the founding of new groups in the Manchester city region. One way in which you could help STAG in charting the next 40 years of archaeological exploration in the Altrincham area is by joining the Group and getting involved in recovering and handling the past! There’s a membership form below:



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