The Archaeology of Trafford in 12 Objects Part 11: Stoneware Bottle, Victoria Street, Altrincham,

The eleventh item in our festive look at the archaeology of Trafford in 12 objects, is a neck and body fragment of a cream-coloured, glazed, stoneware bottle bearing an inscription. Excavated by the South Trafford Archaeological Group at Victoria Street in Altrincham during 1980, this 19th century pottery sherd came from a rubbish pit in the backyard area behind a short row of terraced houses on the southern side of the street.

The pottery fragment is 79mm tall and 48mm wide. The original cylindrical jar would have stood around 180mm high and was roughly 70mm wide at the base. Such stoneware containers were produced by firing a mixture of clay and sand at a very high temperature. The result is an extremely hard, non-porous, semi-vitreous, fabric in cream or light grey that was ideal for storing liquids. These bottles or jars could be glazed or unglazed.

A bottle such as this was specifically manufactured for the local market by ceramic manufacturers based in Manchester and Salford. This example bears the inscription ‘T Jones [W]AGON & HORSES, ALTRINCHAM’, and although we do not know the location and name of the manufacturer, we do know some details about the customer named on this product. The Wagon and Horses public house stood at the southern end of the Old Market Place in Altrincham on the western side of High Street. Thomas Jones is recorded as the publican in the 1850s but not later. The building was demolished in 1877 to make way for the construction of Dunham Road, part of the mid-19th century transport improvements to the old town.

This stoneware bottle must have been thrown away in the decades before 1877. The cottages on the southern side of Victoria Street were built on the eastern fringes of the medieval town in the period 1799 to 1835 and demolished in the mid-20th century. These one up/one down brick dwellings had a roughly paved communal courtyard to the rear, or south, with a series of privvies and stables next to each other. Water was supplied by what was probably in origin a medieval well, lying within 1m of the closest privy. The volume of artefacts from the site indicates that conditions were far from clean, with over 6,500 sherds of pottery spanning the period 1650 to 1900 being recovered from this area, of which roughly one third came from the well itself. 19th century animal remains from this area, which included sheep, pig, and cow bones discarded during the butchery process, suggested small scale industrial processing on the site.

In the early to mid-19th century drinking locally brewed weak beer was almost certainly safer than drinking from the local wells, such as the one on Victoria Street. During this period, Altrincham endured several outbreaks of cholera and typhoid due to the poor housing conditions and a general lack of adequate sanitation. The inscribed stoneware bottle is thus both a reminder of the growth of 19th century industry in the area and its consequences in terms of overcrowded insanitary housing.

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