The ninth piece in our festive look at the archaeology of Trafford in 12 objects, is a small wooden peg. This modest item was discovered by the South Trafford Archaeological Group in 1999 during the excavation of the remains of Onion Farm Cottage at Moss Brow in Warburton. Retrieved from the demolition rubble of the building, it is 131mm long and 20mm by 13mm in cross-section. This oak peg would have been used to help fix two timbers together as part of the structure of the cottage.
Onion Farm Cottage was one element of Onion Farm. The cottage, which lay south of the farmhouse, was demolished around 1930. Investigations revealed a complex building-history beginning with a two-roomed cruck-framed cottage with the walls and trusses resting on a sandstone plinth two courses deep. Fragmentary remains of at least one cruck blade was found during the excavation.
Cruck-frames were formed using two large, curved, timbers (or blades) which were combined to form an A-shaped truss and jointed at the top, or apex. They were often formed by splitting a single curved oak tree trunk, creating individual blades that were roughly 12 inches (c. 0.3m) thick. Tie-beams braced the individual cruck blades at apex height and mid-height, providing the truss structure with rigidity. Further stability within the building was provided by beams which linked each cruck truss and formed the bay or room divisions. This gave the building a self-supporting roof, whilst the side walls were independent of the roof structure. The individual elements were held together by mortice and tenon joints or lap joints fixed by wooden oak pegs, such as the example here, rectangular in section, and knocked into round holes.
This form of construction was common in England between the 13th century and late 17th century. More than 4,500 such structures survive in England and Wales, with 108 examples known from the Greater Manchester area, of which 73 remain standing. The largest concentration in the region lies in Warburton, where eight remain standing.
Excavation of the inglenook fireplace within the cottage revealed some 17th century clay pipes and Midland Purple Ware pottery. Further pottery excavated from a rubbish pit by the original northern gable and behind the fireplace was dated to the late 16th or early 17th century. This suggests that the cruck building at Onion Farm Cottage, of which this peg was a small but key element, was one of the last such structures to be built in the region before brick took over as the normal building material.