Working largely from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic does allow more time for reflection and an enforced slower pace of life. This seasonal archaeology view, in honour of Autumn’s arrival, is sunrise as seen from my bedroom in Sale, south Manchester, in mid-September. As ever the turning of the season is a reminder that even the current health crisis will pass. However, in the meantime amongst the many downsides are the stresses and worries induced by not being able to meet family and friends. I am fortunate in living with a family unit and having access to a garden, which has been well-used this summer for lunches, accompanied by the hourly chimes of the St Paul’s church clock. Occasional bouts of haphazard gardening revealed creamware and transfer print pottery sherds, a reminder of the area’s former rural past.
In the foreground of this dawn vista (see above) are late 19th century terraced houses, whilst on the horizon is the long roofline of St Joseph’s Catholic Church, all products of the growing popularity of Sale as a dormitory town on the Manchester South Junction & Altrincham Railway, opened in 1849. Sale Station lies just out of shot to the left. The 21st century is represented by the flat-roofed apartment block to the left of the church.
The arrival of the railway decisively shifted the focus of what was still a predominately rural township towards suburbia. Sale’s urbanisation began with the building of the Bridgewater Canal across the western edge of Sale Moor in the 1760s and the opening of a coal wharf off what is now Northenden Road (formerly Moor Lane). Prior to this there was a hamlet strung along Cross Street at the western end of the township, whilst the main urban focus was the village (now Sale Moor) at the eastern end of the heathland known as Sale Moor.
Sale Moor was enclosed and turned over to small farms and marketing gardening in 1806, the number of farm holdings above six acres in the township rising from 14 in 1806 to 28 in 1845. It is still possible to find farmhouses, hemmed in by later housing, across the township. These are often set back from, and at a slightly odd angle to, the rest of the street pattern. Memory of some of the early 19th century landowners’ and tenant farmers live on in the road names: Baxter, Marsland, and Wardle, for instance.
I had the opportunity to survey one of the dwindling surviving 18th and 19th century farms in Sale in 2002, before its demolition ahead of the widening of the M60. The earliest element of Oaks Farm, on Rutland Lane, was a two bay dwelling from the early 18th century. The building was extensively remodelled in the late 18th century, and then again in the mid-19th century. The final form of the farmhouse, which included some minor early 20th century additions, had a ground floor with four rooms giving a double-depth plan, with abutting farm buildings to the south. The tithe map indicates that in 1845 the tenants were farming less than 20 acres.
Sale’s population rose from 819 in 1801 to 1,720 in 1851. It leapt to 7,915 in 1881 and reached 12,088 in 1901. This urban expansion signalled the end for many of the farms in Sale, and all those established on the enclosed Sale Moor. By the time that Sale Urban Council was formed in 1867, urbanisation was well underway. Detached and semi-detached houses lined a triangle of roads formed by Hope Road (running north to south and parallel to the canal in the west), Northenden Road in the north and Marsland Road in the south. Northenden Road and Marsland Road meet at Sale Moor village on the eastern edge of the old heathland. In 1875 there were only 18 farms larger than six acres left in Sale. These were mostly built over during the 1920s and 1930s as Sale merged into the general urbanscape of the Manchester city region. Something to bear in mind when gardening next reveals broken pieces of 19th century pottery.