Never judge a building solely by its external experience, and this especially applies to the structures surrounding Altrincham’s Old Market Place. The South Trafford Archaeology Group (STAG), in conjunction with our local Workers’ Education Association archaeology class, undertook a number of archaeology building surveys here in the late 1990s. We only managed to get into six buildings: The Orange Tree, Nos. 6, 12, and 16 Old Market Place, and Nos. 14 and 16 Church Street. In most cases the survey work undertaken was a basic level 2 type building record, comprising a measured ground plan and detailed photographs, backed by a brief written description. We were, though, able to record more of the internal timber-framed structure at the Orange Tree pub.
Frustratingly No. 8 and No. 10 Old Market Place remained firmly off limits, the then owners uninterested in our historic survey. Externally, the brick construction and slate-covered roof suggested that the building dated from the 19th century. Yet a stretch of timber-framed walling could be seen through the office ground floor window suggesting an earlier origin. And there the puzzle rested for many years, during which I occasionally peered through the office window at the timber-framed wall and wondered about the building’s real age.
Then, earlier this year the property changed hands and the new owners began a programme of refurbishment. The Chair of Altrincham History Society as well as a member of STAG, Hazel Pryor, has also been keeping an eye of the structure. Recording old buildings can be a matter of opportunity and last week Hazel got an invitation to step inside as the work progressed and the skip outside filled with rubble. There, exposed in the northern wall of No. 10 was a cruck-framed truss, and last Monday STAG had the opportunity to also look at what Hazel had discovered. The cruck truss only survives at first floor height and might well be the gable-end of a timber-building running into No. 12 Old Market Place. Statistically 90% of cruck truss buildings were built before the early 17th century, so this truss might be 16th century or even earlier. Thus, we now have a second surviving timber-framed property in the Old Market Place, after the Orange Tree. There may well be more, hiding behind later Georgian and Victorian brick facades.
Finally, as Chair of STAG, an invitation to please join the Group for cake, candles, and celebrations for our 40th birthday at the STAG AGM on Friday 22nd November, Timperley Old Hall, Altrincham.