Seasonal Archaeology: The Lockdown Landscape of Timperley Old Hall Moat

The STAG Archaeology Centre on the 31st March 2020

Since 1987 the South Trafford Archaeological Group have been housed in their own archaeology display centre and headquarters behind Timperley Old Hall, on Altrincham Golf course. The pre-fab, four-roomed, building was a donation in 1985 and cost more than £5,000 to re-erect by the time is was opened by Prof Michael Wood in June 1987. The erecting work was done with some expert advice as well as much help from STAG members.

In the intervening 33 years the building, christened the ‘Mote House’ in recognition of the medieval moated hall site behind the building, has become the focus for STAG’s activities from finds processing and meetings, to conferences, lecturers, and displays. Access to the site of Timperley Old Hall, which lies less than 50m away, is via a wooded pathway at the back of the building, and the archaeology centre houses a regionally important grouping of late medieval and early post-medieval pottery from STAG’s excavations of the moated platform and the original Timperley Old Hall.

In normal times the building is open three days a week to the public and bustles with activity on STAG fieldwork days, Group meetings, and teaching sessions. At any one time the Group has at least half a dozen active projects, including digs and building surveys. However, the Spring of 2020 was not a normal time and from the 23rd March the Archaeology Centre was closed as Britain coped with the lock-down as a result of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Archaeology, like all other aspects of life in the UK, was put on hold during the disease’s peak, and like all voluntary archaeology societies the STAG family was isolated at home, communicating only remotely, the high age-profile of group members ensuring that many members had to be ‘shielded’ from the virus.

The STAG Archaeology Centre on the 26th May 2020.

During the spring a few of the STAG members allowed out for a daily constitutional, and lucky enough to live close to Timperley Old Hall, have been keeping a weather eye on the Archaeology Centre and the moated hall. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to include the Archaeology Centre and moat on my daily exercise on a Tuesday and throughout the lock-down I have been taking weekly picture of both sites. Normally the building is hemmed in with cars from those parking to play golf or attending the local rifle range (which is next door) and the track-side verges flatten by golf maintenance vehicles. The moat and walled garden that now occupies the medieval hall platform are only accessible from a bridge in the golf driving range car park, a hidden gem that few people in Altrincham are aware of.

The eastern and southern arms of Timperley Old Hall moat, 31 March 2020

However, for 10 weeks I’ve been able to chart the changing character of both the Archaeology Centre and Timperley Old Hall Moat. I’m glad to report that the building has survived the 10 weeks of lock-down well. Indeed, the flowers on the verges and by the paths around the building have been spectacular this spring, and the bird noise very load.

Timperley Old Hall southern moat arm: top in 14th April 2020. Bottom 26 May 2020.

The medieval moat, though, has gradually disappeared under the growth of spring vegetation and the encroaching trees. In February I wrote on this blog about how the leat system supplies water for the moat, and how Timperley Old Hall is one of the few water-filled medieval moats in south Manchester. After one of the wettest winters in the last decade the water level in the moat was high-enough to provide a few centimeters of clear water beneath the bridge across the northern moat. However, by the end of May and the driest Spring on record in Manchester (just 13mm of rain in May) only the southern moat had water in it, the merest trickle of water being provided from the leat to the east. The boggy area of the western, eastern, and northern moat have proved attractive for irises and a range of wet-loving birds. Yet by the end of the May these areas were dry.

The unusual feature of the moat at Timperley Old Hall is that it is still supplied with water from its historic leat system. This distinctive characteristic needs to be maintained as part of its historic significance. Perhaps it is time we thought about getting the moat scheduled to aide its long-term protection?

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