Digging Worsley Green

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The newly renovated Worsley Delph, November 2019

On the 29th November 2019 a small ceremony was held to mark the opening of the new public viewing platform and interpretation boards at Worsley Delph. This was the culmination of more than five years work to open up The Delph and improve access to the Bridgewater Canal through the city of Salford. Th origin of this work can be traced back to 2011 and the 250th anniversary celebrations of the opening of the Bridgewater Canal – the world’s first arterial industrial canal. The 250th anniversary celebrations not only raised awareness about the canal as a surviving industrial monument but also prompted a further archaeological investigations on the canal and its wider landscape setting.

As part of that wider research between 22 and 25th July and the 29th July and 1st August 2019 a research and community dig was conducted on the site of the former canal workshops at Worsley Green. This was led by the University of Salford with group members from the Greater Manchester Archaeology Federation also participating, including members from Salford Archaeology and History Society, the South Trafford Archaeological Group and the South Manchester Archaeology Research Team.

The project aims to better understand the development of the Worsley Yard canal workshops, established on the site of Worsley Green in the 1760s by the Duke of Bridgewater and his estate manager, John Gilbert. These industrial buildings serviced the Worsley coal mines, and the boats using the Bridgewater Canal and underground canals at Worsley. They were closed around 1904 when the workshops were moved to Walkden. Permission to demolish the old buildings at Worsley Yard was given by the then Earl of Ellesmere to Captain Henry Hart Davis, Chief Agent of the Bridgewater estate, in 1904. The demolition of the yard buildings and the creation of a grassed green were part of a wider programme of gentrification to turn the area into a garden village. By 1910 there was a new road, The Green, lined with 30 newly built estate houses to the west, south, and east of Worsley Green, and a new bridge across the canal to the south. Other industrial buildings demolished at this time included the flour mill and canal warehouse by The Delph.

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A late 19th century view of the canal workshops on Worsley Green.

Five test pits dug in the summer of 2018 by the Salford Archaeology and History Society revealed archaeological remains for the 18th and 19th century just below the turf in the area of the Manor House, close to Worsley Road.

In 2019 the Manor House building was further explored with additional trenches opened to locate the railway buildings and tracks to the south of the manor house. The Tameside Archaeological Society also undertook a geophysical survey of the central and eastern part of the Green in order to trace the mid-19th century railway tracks in this.

Eight trenches were dug in 2019, four in the area of the Manor House, three over the site of a railway workshop to the south, and one over the line of railway tracks north of the Bridgewater monument. The four trenches in and around the Manor House revealed that the outbuildings to the west in one trench had several phases and that the area had been used as a rubbish dump for kitchen waste. Pottery recovered from here was mostly 18th and 19th century, in date, but there were also some slipwares from the late 17th century/early 18th century and a few sherds of Cistercian ware from the 17th century. Two trenches were excavated within the brick-built house, where it was discovered that both the southern-most rooms were cellared, and lime-washed. The eastern Manor House trench, 1m by 1m, was full of demolition rubble and quickly backfilled. In the largest trench, 4m by 5m, the brick barrel-vaulting and stair access into the cellar was found to survive in the south-western corner of the house. The handmade brick sizes suggested that this part of the building was built in the late 18th century, only late 19th century and early 20th century material come from the demolition infill of the cellars. A fourth trench, 1m by 1m, to the north of the Manor House only located brick demolition rubble.

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Excavating one of the 19th century workshops at Worsley Green

Three trenches were dug over the site of a railway workshop to the south of the Manor House. The largest trench, 2m by 4m, was located in the centre of the opened-side shed shown on the OS 1891 map. This contained a clay bed c. 0.2m deep for a railway line within the structure. This bed retained the impression of two wooden railway sleepers. Beneath this was a deep foundation deposit (0.5m plus) of ash, cinders, and clinker above a clay level. This was the area of the early 19th century gas holder and its possible that this foundation layer was created when that structure was demolished in the mid-19th century. A second trench, 2m by 2m, to the north located an area of flooring covered in iron metal residue, up to 0.15m deep and a narrow metal pipe running beneath this layer. A small trench, 1m by 1m, was dug on the northern side of the workshop in the hope of locating the northern wall. This located another part of the internal floor areas covered in iron metal residue.

Finally, a single trench was dug over the line of railway tracks north of the Bridgewater monument. This located cinder, ash and clinker foundations spread over a 4m width and surviving to a depth of c. 0.30m. This was interpreted as the track bed for the railway points shown in this area on the 1891 OS map. A few 19th century earthenware sherds came from the track bed make-up, whilst beneath was a clay layer.

The second season of work at Worsley Green thus located one of the largest workshops built in the 19th century and confirmed that the parch-marks seen as rows of parallel lines on the grass were the shadows o the railway tracks built onto the green in the mid-19th century. Furthermore, the remains of the manor House were found to be more substantial than previously known. This is only the beginning in exploring the development of the canal workshops and yard at Worsley and their role in supporting the functioning of the Bridgewater Canal.

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