Episode 4 of the Archaeotea Podcast is now available free to download. This latest episode focuses on the Iron Age and Roman farmstead at Great Woolden Hall in Salford. This was excavated between 1986 and 1988 by the Greater Manchester Archaeological Unit (GMAU). It has become one of the type sites for lowland late prehistoric settlement in the southern part of the North West. Like the Iron Age enclosure at Irby on the Wirral, which was excavated around the same time by Liverpool Museum, the range of features, finds, and activities from this site typify one way of living in the Iron Age.
Great Woolden Hall lies on a small spit of land jutting into the western side of the Glaze Brook, a stream running north to south into the River Mersey. To the north, east, and south lies the reclaimed farmland of the former Chat Moss. Today there is still an astonishing 27 square kilometres of peatland under the plough and, increasingly, reclaimed wetland areas. From this landscape have come a number of exciting early finds and sites: bronze spearheads; stone age flints; log boats; a bog body; and early farming settlements.
With so few sites of this type known in this part of North West England, the opportunity to investigate it was seized upon by GMAU. A 20-month excavation, from April 1987 to November 1988, revealed a farmstead covering an area of one hectare. It was defined on its northern and eastern sides by two ditches and an inner bank, with an entrance on the eastern, mossland, side. The interior of the settlement contained evidence for five major phases of activity, with at least two round huts, hearths, rubbish pits, a roadway, and pits that may represent stock enclosures. Radio-carbon dates and finds of pottery indicated that the settlement was occupied from around 100 BC to the early 3rd century AD.
This was a rural settlement, home to perhaps an extended family. Everyday life within the settlement revolved around the agricultural seasons, for which there was extensive evidence for mixed farming of grain and animals. Pottery indicates connections with Iron Age communities in central Cheshire and southern England, whilst Roman pottery from kilns elsewhere in the North West were found, along with Samian ware from Gaul.
The end of the farmstead at Great Woolden appears to have been deliberate. Some time in the early 3rd century the remaining inner ditch was backfilled with domestic rubbish and the final round house demolished. There is no indication that this was a hostile act. Rather, the family of farmers appear to have moved on, perhaps to a new settlement nearby. Or perhaps they left the area completely, the local farming landscape having become exhausted or made inhabitable by worsening environmental conditions.
You can listen to the Archaeotea Podcast, Series 1 Episode 4, ‘Early Farmers at Great Woolden Hall’ here: