2019 marks the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Council for British Archaeology in 1944. That of course means that CBA North West is also 75 years young, since the regional groups were established in the same year as part of the CBA structure. I was fortunate enough to be able to look through the CBA’s archives at York earlier this summer.
Stored under the eaves of Beatrice de Cardi house were four cardboard boxes and several box files with minutes, letters, and newsletters, with documentary materials spanning the 1940s to the 1990s. In amongst these were records encompassing the establishment of CBA Group 5, what is now CBA North West (CBA Archives Box 14).
On the 27th November 1943 representatives of local archaeology and history societies from across North West England met at Church House on Deansgate in Manchester. Society representatives at that meeting came from the Ancient Monuments Society, Blackburn Antiquarian Society, Chester Archaeological Society, the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society, and the North Staffordshire Field Club. The South Staffordshire Archaeological Society sent their apologies.
The aim of the meeting was to hear about the progress, led by the Society of Antiquaries of London and supported by the Congress of Archaeological Societies, in establishing a Council for British Archaeology. The minutes of that meeting noted that the purpose of this new council was ‘to represent and speak with authority for British Archaeology’. Further, ‘for this purpose the country had been divided into various districts of which Lancashire, Cheshire and Staffordshire was one (No.5). Each group or region was asked to elect three representatives to the Council….The Regional Groups would meet in their own districts from time to time for the consideration of regional problems.’ The new regional groups would be ‘responsible for dealing with local problems in co-operation with the Council’, and officers and representatives of the new Regional Group 5 would be elected annually, with an annual fee of £1.1.0 to cover expenses. These aims were agreed at the meeting and at the same gathering Dr J Wilfred Jackson (an Operations and Intelligence Officer at Manchester regional headquarters during the war) was elected as Chairman of the new Regional Group and Mr Harry Wardale as convenor (secretary) (a representative of the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society). Early meetings were to be held in Manchester but ‘as soon as possible they should be made moveable’. Thus, CBA Group 5 came into being the following February, as part of the national Council for British Archaeology.
The newly formed CBA Group 5 encompassed the historic counties of Cheshire, Lancashire (including the area north of the sands of Morecambe Bay, now in southern Cumbria) and Staffordshire. The intention to move the committee around the region was quickly realised: early Council meetings were held in Blackburn and Liverpool, as well as Manchester. Sadly, Harry Wardale died in March 1945 and was replaced as Secretary by Dr J E Spence of the Ancient Monuments Society (at the time working in the Public Health Department at Eccles Town Hall).
The initial concerns of the Regional group were around bomb damage and subsequent rebuilding work. There were worries about the damage to Wallopes Well near Blackburn during army training in 1944. A new army training range on the Fells north of Ulverston also caused worry regarding the potential damage to prehistoric sites. Rebuilding in Chester led to a proposal to support research within the historic city, which was visited by the national CBA in 1945. Later, potential house building threatened Piele Hall at Haydock (1946-47), a newly proposed brickworks threated the site of Homestead Moat at Peel near Lytham St Annes (1947), and there was the threat of open coal mining in Lyme Park, Cheshire (1947). As the immediate effects of the Second World War began to recede more traditional archaeological discoveries were noted. The finding of a medieval coin hoard in Swinton and of a Roman coinhoard at Boothstown, both sites in Salford, were recorded in 1947. The destruction of the remains of the prehistoric and Roman earthwork at Rainsough in Bury was also reported in 1947. Historic buildings were much on the mind of the new Regional Group and Professor P A Cordingley of Manchester University was drafted in during 1947 to provide expert advice regarding threats to buildings of architectural interest and importance at a regional and national level.
By 1947 CBA Group 5 appears to have been well established with a growing list of local society members, committee meetings at least three times a year, regular reports passed on to national CBA, and Group 5 members attending meetings in London. The end of this formative period for the regional group was marked in March 1947, when it was agreed that the South Staffordshire Archaeological Society, who it was observed had never attended Group 5 meetings, would henceforth come under the Midlands Regional Group 8.