Halewood was rather rural in character, before the landscape transformed it in the 20th century. Being on the edge of Liverpool contributed to the preservation of some interesting features. Two of these, once standing close to each other, were the Old Hutt and Wright’s Moat.
Wright’s Moat was a mysterious thing. It’s name comes from Thomas Wright who lived in New Hutt Farm in the 19th century (Royden, 1992). Mike Royden notes that it existed before this, though it’s name is not recorded.
The shape of Wright’s Moat
Wright’s Moat consisted of a rounded square moat surrounding an ‘island’. The old maps that show it don’t give much clue as to why it was here, except that the 1937-61 OS map (1:25000) shows that a stream ran into or out of the south east corner. The stream clinked it to the moat around Old Hutt (which was a manor house). It could have been ornamental, or something like the Duck Decoy that is still standing today a few miles away in Hale (though see below).
The excavation of Wright’s Moat in 1960 found an empty site; only one trench was excavated, aligned NE/SW (Wrathmell). The archaeologists found coal and burnt stone, and concluded that the ‘platform’ of the Moat consisted of material dug from the ditch surrounding it.
They also concluded that the evidence pointed to ‘occupation’ (i.e. some human activity taking place here); the only material remains were pieces of medieval pottery. The pottery was very poorly preserved, and they therefore suggested that the medieval period represented the main period of activity.
Finally, the archaeologists put forward the idea that this could once have been a small farmstead. The inhabitants would have abandoned it when the Ireland family took over the land, moving into the Old Hutt.
Both Wright’s Moat and the nearby Old Hutt were destroyed when the Ford car factory (now Jaguar Land Rover) was built.
This is part of a series of posts based on the talks given at the Recent Developments in Merseyside Archaeology conference. It was held on the 13th October 2018, and took place at the Museum of Liverpool. Mark Adams of RSK Consulting spoke about his site at Mark Rake in Bromborough.
Mark dug on the site of the former Rectory Gardens, looking for the remains of a lost Anglo-Saxon sculpture. They were first found when the church was last rebuilt, in the mid-19th century. The story goes that builders crushed the remains for sand, possibly on the order of the rectory’s incumbent!
The old rectory gardens, Mark Rake
The excavation at Mark Rake happened in 2016, supported by Big Heritage. Big Heritage had a season of local test pitting as part of ‘Discovering Bromborough‘ back in 2013. Archaeologists found Mesolithic and Neolithic stone flakes, Roman coins and pottery.
The evidence suggested that nothing had been built on the site of Church Croft since at least the 1650s. Perhaps this lack of development would have led to the survival of very old archaeology.
When a new, smaller rectory replaced the old building, builders found fragments of an Anglo-Saxon sculpture. The carvings have since disappeared, so the archaeologists wondered whether they could rediscover them. Their second aim was to look for settlement, from the Anglo-Saxon period or any other.
Looking for a sculpture
The archaeologists dismantled a wall dating from the time of the new rectory, but found no carvings. They then stripped an area for excavation, finding a series of perpendicular ditches. They found a Neolithic arrowhead and Neolithic carinated bowl fragments. These date from 4000 – 3000 BC, and were found in shallow scoops. Mark suspected a cremation, and so took the whole context as a sample. Human bone was indeed recovered from the sample.
Evidence of a settlement suggested a Bronze Age date. There was a ditch or a gully associated with a collared urn (typically Bronze Age).
More gullies dated from AD 650 – 850, encouraging the idea that an Anglo-Saxon sculpture could be on the cards. Environmental analysis discovered barley, rye, wheat and weed evidence.
Finally, on the very last day of the excavation, diggers found a piece of carved stone. Comparison with an old photo of the entire set of sculpture pieces showed that it was part of the collection found in the 19th century. Unfortunately none of the other pieces was found. Mark concluded that the rest had indeed, as the story tells, been ground up for building sand.
Excavating in Bromborough
Despite not finding the majority of the sculpture, Mark had found a few clues that would help future excavations. Although individual finds are interesting, it is the collection which is important. The assemblage of prehistoric finds in proximity to medieval ones is a pattern that Mark has seen elsewhere, and it’ll be interesting to see if, in future, finding medieval features can lead to prehistoric sites.
There are two other sites: All Saints Church, Childwall, and Overchurch in Sefton, which may yield such secrets in the future. They are ancient sites (All Saints has 14th century masonry in its walls) with very little development since their foundation. If the patterns that Mark sees on other Merseyside excavations are taken further, the prehistory of Merseyside is only just beginning to reveal itself.
This is part of a series of posts based on the talks given at the Recent Developments in Merseyside Archaeology conference. It was held on the 13th October 2018, and took place at the Museum of Liverpool. Liz Stewart spoke about Pembroke Place, and the different projects which have been going on there. Galkoff’s Place featured prominently, as did court housing and the area’s ‘darker’ history.
The Pembroke Place project
Liz began her talk with an overview of the project she ran at Pembroke Place. Liverpool’s famous School of Tropical Medicine are landowners in the area, and have been a partner in the project. The centre of the project has been Galkoff’s butcher’s shop and Watkinson Terrace – a court house next door.
In 1835 a map by Gage documented the high density of residents in the area. Before this time the area had been a place of ‘goodly mansions’, but the owners of those had started moving out to the more salubrious outskirts of Liverpool. Their large houses were disappearing, slowly replaced with much smaller dwellings. However, some of these larger villas still stood to the east of Daulby Place when the smaller buildings appeared on the map.
Liverpool’s population in the 19th century
In the early 19th century 40% of the people of Liverpool lived in cellar dwellings. Even at the time, these conditions were known to be too poor for living, and enquiries were run at the time. In the early 20th century slum clearances finally began.
Pembroke Place once consisted of eight houses on it, around two courtyards. Today, only two of those eight houses remain, as back rooms to the shops fronting the street.
Archaeology at Pembroke Place
The Museum of Liverpool wrote a report on these houses, and collected information about the social context of the street. Social context drew on newspaper articles, which often referenced ‘Little Hell’, the area’s nickname. Anson Street was the centre of Little Hell, which had a reputation for high numbers of murders and brothels. This reputation was no doubt fuelled by the newspaper’s need to sell copies. Liz mentioned that the articles were misleading with their exaggerations.
The archaeologists, including Mark Adams, found structures belonging to the court houses. There was a light well as street level, letting sunlight into the lowest dwellings. There is evidence of the buildings’ alteration and adjustment, including around the light well. The finds were of surprisingly high quality, with bowls, a domino and a ceramic egg dug up. These show that, despite the conditions, people felt it important to surround themselves with ‘non-essentials’.
Court housing may be a familiar topic for Liverpudlians. But the evidence from the newspapers, and even the excavations, brought to light disturbing details of life in the courts. Even the census records tell of the living conditions.
There were indeed murders, including those of children, as well as other social ills. Should a museum talk about these? Is there a danger of treating the information like those Victorian newspapers did? Does a museum run the risk of accusations of exploitation?
The Museum of Liverpool conducted a survey, and 100% of people thought that a museum was an appropriate place to talk openly about ‘dark’ and troubling history. However, 90% thought that child murder was something to leave out, even from museums. This is likely related to the family audience museums attract.
The census reports show that, although court houses, these buildings did not house the poorest people. Residents had steady jobs, for example. But Liz admitted that there’s more work to do to establish anything for certain.
In answer to a question from the audience, Liz told us that there were several Jewish businesses in the area, as well as Galkoff’s, until the 1950s. At that point many of them moved into south Liverpool, around Wavertree and Childwall.
This is part of a series of posts based on the talks given at the Recent Developments in Merseyside Archaeology conference. It was held on the 13th October 2018, and took place at the Museum of Liverpool. This session was slightly different, in that as well as a talk, Jeff Speakman showed attendees pottery excavated from Rainford. People were allowed to handle the pots, and questions were asked in a kind of interactive session.
Rainford, in north east Merseyside, was once a huge pottery and pipemaking centre, only declining in the early 20th century. ‘Faceted tygs‘ are one of the most distinctive types of pot, and the earliest drawing we have is from 1878.
Sam Rowe and a team of archaeologists have been excavating in Church Road, Rainford, to uncover details about the town’s pottery industry. Their ‘Site 10’ was the first pottery site excavated in north west England (with Melling coming second place).
The Golden Lion pub was itself a site of pipemaking.
In 1979 archaeologists excavated a site intended for a new clubhouse and changing rooms on the tennis courts. In 2011 test pitting produced a faceted cup, and in 2013 the Rainford Roots project began. Jeff noted that the test pits for Rainford Roots were incredibly densely packed with pottery sherds. Late 16th century wasters (misfired pots used for packing and protection in kilns) showed that this was definitely an industrial scale of pot making.
Infra red photographs showed field boundaries in the area, but the location of kilns was still uncertain. Three quarters of a tonne of pottery was excavated from the tennis court extension site, close to the earlier digs in the 1970s. Some pots were complete, and in the best condition Jeff has seen across the many sites he’s excavated over years.
Unique pottery from Rainford
Some unusual pieces came from Rainford. Sgraffito is a type of hand carved design where a design is scratched into the top one of two layers of glaze, giving a contrasting colour. A potentially controversial sgraffito item was found (see below). Tygs are three- (or more!) handled jugs made at a couple of sites in north west England (plus a single waster from Stoke). Rainford has a distinctive design which the archaeologists asked a modern potter to reproduce. The rather heavy version that came back was proof, as the potter admitted, that small hands (or a long tool) were needed to craft the fine bodied vessels found at Rainford. This could mean they were made by women or children.
Another unique feature are the handles. Even when the design of the pot itself is seen from other locations, the handles have a ‘twisted’ design, asymmetrical, which is unique to Rainford. This unusual type is found on pots of many different designs.
Other Rainford pottery types
As well as these highlights, the Rainford Roots team found other interesting pieces. There were one-off pieces found nowhere else, there were chafing dishes, salting pans, a possible alembic tray, hollow handles, decorated sherds, and some things that look like ‘melted’ pots. Some sherds have seed impressions on them, which probably came from seeds which were scattered on the floor of the space set aside for drying.
One interesting piece was one that Jeff saw as potentially idolatrous: it had a rough ‘face’ in the centre, which could be the face of Jesus (see second image in gallery on Liverpool Museum’s blog post). This would have been problematic in an era when the Protestant Reformation had blacklisted images of Jesus.
It’s hoped that makers marks will let archaeologists discover the identity of the potters. Clay pipes often have decoration on them, including makers marks but also other designs that still allow identification of their origin.
This is part of a series of posts based on the talks given at the Recent Developments in Merseyside Archaeology conference. It was held on the 13th October 2018, and took place at the Museum of Liverpool. This talk was given by Vanessa Oakden, now Curator of Regional & Community Archaeology at the Museum of Liverpool, and formerly the Finds Liaison Officer for Liverpool, for the Portable Antiquities Scheme.
This talk is centred on two community archaeology projects that Vanessa has been involved in: St Nicholas’ Church on the waterfront, and Lister Steps in Tue Brook. The projects aimed to teach volunteers some building recording skills, and preserve the buildings in question. The projects would put the buildings in their landscape context as well, and highlight some of the changes to the structures over time.
St Nicholas’s Church
There once was a small chapel on the banks of the Mersey, known as St Mary del Key (Quay), first mentioned in 1257. This was not a full parish church, but a chapel of ease within the parish of Walton-on-the-Hill. St Nicholas’s Church was built close by in 1355, taking over the role of St Mary’s. It was constructed over the course of a century, finally consecrated in 1361 when plague erupted in the city.
The church has been rebuilt several times, for example in 1952 after it had suffered heavy damage in the Blitz. Lots of older material is therefore still in situ, and the project rediscovered some of this. The fascinating thing about these remains is that they are not all aligned with the current building. They may be earlier, and unrelated to the building of the church itself.
Vanessa showed the Peters Painting which depicts the city in the 1680s. She said that the painting suggests these older walls may be part of warehouses just inland of the church (as it then stood). They could be Late Medieval, or even earlier.
Other parts of the section that the community archaeology group excavated showed the 19th century re-use of rubble from older versions of St Nick’s.
The old Lister Drive Library was one of the so-called ‘Carnegie libraries‘, the only one in Liverpool, and designed by Thomas Shelmerdine. It closed in 2006 because of the poor state of the building, thus putting it at even greater risk. It’s a Grade II listed building, and following a successful Heritage Lottery Fund bid a project started to bring it back into community use.
Vanessa’s community archaeology project chose a small patch of the building’s outside, and looked at the graffiti there. This was a chance to practice archaeological drawing: teasing apart the layers of paint is much like excavation!
The group chose Heritage Open Day to ask local people to volunteer. It was a great success, and there are hopes to repeat it. Also, in the future Vanessa hopes to run an excavation in the grounds of the library. This will be backed up by social research – talking to locals about their knowledge of the building and the area.
Vanessa also gave a preview of work being done behind the scenes by Luke Daly-Groves. Luke is in the middle of a PhD in American history, but needed something unrelated to gain wider experience. He chose Roman archaeology, which Luke admits is not all that common in this part of the UK! He’ll be putting together an exhibition using finds from the Ochre Brook excavation of 2000.
A Roman tilery was discovered, stamped by one Aulus Viducus. A patera (a shallow bowl) which had been uncovered in Cheshire had been donated to the museum too.
The following post about Fort Crosby is based on a talk Alison Burns gave at the Recent Developments in Merseyside Archaeology conference, held in the Museum of Liverpool on 13th October 2018. Alison has also written about the Formby footprints (see the previous link for details).
New research is shedding light on a piece of Mersey defence which has a long history. Alison Burns has produced a booklet about Fort Crosby, with further detail coming from a desk-based assessment (a kind of investigation that uses documents, maps and other archival resources as opposed to excavation) by Mark Adams.
Defence of Mersey and country
The River Mersey has always been important for Britain’s defences. King John founded Liverpool itself partly because of his ambitions over in Ireland, the Mersey crossing at Hale Ford was important in the Civil War, and we all know about Western Approaches. But many installations have been built in the intervening period. Perch Rock, for example, built off the coast of New Brighton in 1826, defended the mouth of the Mersey and the Port of Liverpool. Its eighteen guns looked towards the Irish Sea in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars.
But in 1882 the whole of Britain’s coastal defences were reviewed by one Lord Morley. Morley found that the defence of Britain’s coasts was inadequate, and amongst other things recommended five batteries in the Mersey. These forts were to be at Liscard, North Shore, Seaforth, Crosby, plus the existing Perch Rock.
It took an incredibly long time to build Fort Crosby: starting in March 1906, work was only completed in October 1907.
From 1914 new troops used Crosby as a muster point, and they lived in the barracks at Sniggery. The fort itself had a surveillance role, as part of the Royal Observer Corps, as well as anti-shipping guns. In all it was a well-developed site, including practice trenches (visible in aerial photographs for years after) in preparation for the First World War.
Dragons’ teeth (anti-tank concrete pyramids) littered the foreshore, and barbed wire protected Formby. There was a starfish decoy (a mound of burning debris used to distract and blind bomber pilots) close by too. Starfish decoys were a slight concern, what with being built from large amounts of burning material so close to artillery and ammunition!
The Fort worked hand in hand with Maunsell Forts, stilted buildings out at sea giving another line of defence. There were three of these in the River Mersey.
After the Second World War
Fort Crosby acted as a prisoner of war camp (Camp 678), holding German and Italian prisoners from 1945 to 1950. They worked on farms and on renovations in the nearby communities. Bert Trautmann, a goalkeeper for Manchester City, became a local legend because of his time here. (One of Trautmann’s achievements was to break his neck during a game but to continue playing!) The prisoners also made toys for local children.
The Maunsell Towers were no longer of use after the war, and were demolished. Territorial Army personnel used the anti-shipping guns of Fort Crosby to destroy them. Lack of gun training meant this took a long time. Only one in ten shots hit their mark! (Incidentally, there is no record of the anti-shipping guns being used against the enemy at any time.)
Reclamation by nature
The area around the fort was not cleared immediately after it fell into disuse. Closure came in 1958, but full demolition and landscaping had to wait until 1968. During this time the buildings had been vandalised, and occasional finds surfaced, like parts of uniforms or rifles.
Eventually, the sand dunes and grasses reclaimed the land; today, only the footing for the guns, plus a sewage pipe and a trig point are visible. Today, rubble from city centre Blitz site clearances protects the coast from erosion, although the area will always be changing.
This is part of a series of posts based on the talks given at the Recent Developments in Merseyside Archaeology conference. It was held on the 13th October 2018, and took place at the Museum of Liverpool. It’s based on a talk given by Ron Cowell, who has excavated at Lunt Meadows for a few years now.
The project started in 2012, because the Environment Agency (EA) were working in this area between Maghull and Crosby to restore the reed beds. and ponds for conservation reasons.
The excavations looked at 12,000 year-old deposits around the River Alt, but showed the potential for other sites to be found in the area in the future. Marine clay sits on top of freshwater clay (showing a change in the environment over time), which in turn sits on top of the Mesolithic occupation layer. During the time people inhabited this area, the ground was initially drier than it would be later on.
The lack of drainage on this wet site has led to good preservation of artefacts and structural evidence. The archaeology is also deep enough that it’s not been damaged by ploughing.
The team found a floor surface surrounded by a ring of postholes. The small size of the holes suggests the poles (and hence the walls) were short, with any roof coming close to the ground. Stone tools were found too. These would have been used for building the shelter, gathering food, and making clothes. These people would not have farmed. The tools date different elements of the site to between 9,500 to 6,000 years ago, with repeat visits and re-use over this time.
The tools were made of flint from the local area, and chert. It became apparent that the chert was not from nearby. Another site excavated in the region, Greasby, brought up chert tools made of stone from North Wales, but this was different. Its appearance is more like that of chert from the Clitheroe area.
Hut circles in the landscape
It looks from the plans as if there are two hut circles, each with two ditches. Despite their closeness to each other, they might be as much as 200 years apart (9,300 and 9,100 years ago respectively), and were occupied by groups doing all kinds of different things. Their activities would have depended on the season, and the size of the groups would vary. Perhaps the different groups were related, a series of generations visiting the same site year after year (or decade after decade).
The area around the huts, now wetlands, would have been oak and hazel forest. Ron noted that the position of the trees was as much a part of the site as the placing of the huts. The Alt itself would have been further away from the site 9,000 years ago, although closer 7.500 years ago. It seems that no archaeology has been found from this period over 4m above sea level. This was the flood plain, and Mesolithic communities were intentionally building on the flood plain, and nowhere else.
One of the most interesting sets of finds represented what Ron called ‘formal symbolic acts’. Melon-sized granite boulders – the granite having sparkling mica pieces in – were deliberately placed in the ground. These large stones were stained red by sitting in iron rich soils, and this may have contributed to their importance to the Mesolithic people here. Next to these boulders – there were two similar ones on the site – were struck blue flints and a smaller pebble. There were two of these flint-pebble pairs at each granite boulder, placed on opposite sides of the central stone. What these arrangements might have ‘meant’ is unknown, but it shows that life was more than mere utilitarian survival. Time was spent on activities whose meaning we can’t intuit.
Later history of Lunt Meadows
The later phases of the site have been dated to 7,900 years ago. At this time a tree was deliberately set alight on the site. It’s trunk now lies on its side in the excavated area, and a white flint blade placed deliberately beneath it. The significance of the tree burning has been lost to us.
By around 7,500 years ago the oak and hazel forest was dying back due to a rising sea level and water table. The area became a fen and swamp, before settling into a reed swamp about 7,500 years ago. It’s this reed swamp landscape that the Environment Agency are restoring. Essentially, Lunt Meadows is once again a prehistoric wetland landscape!
Future of the project
Ron Cowell continues to excavate at Lunt Meadows, and in fact the archaeological site is now part of the nature reserve. The Environment Agency have agreed to incorporate the archaeology into their project, reflecting on and demonstrating how humans and nature can co-exist in a way that leaves both richer for it. It’s an active site with Key Stage 2 school children visiting regularly. The Stone Age is part of KS2 these days, so Lunt Meadows provides a great resource. The Young Archaeologist Club have also visited, and built a ‘Mesolithic’ hut with reeds that they had themselves cut.
A case is ready in the Museum of Liverpool to house objects from the excavation, and at the time of writing this should be ready for visitors at the end of October 2018.
An app (for phones and tablets) has been developed by a company called Inspyro, which takes advantage of new Augmented Reality (AR) technology. With the app installed, a person can explore the Lunt Meadows landscape by overlaying it on the scene in front of them (as seen through the camera on the device). This works best at the site itself, to recreate the Mesolithic landscape and walk among it. But the app also works on smaller scales – you can project a miniature Mesolithic world onto your tabletop! This app is still in production, and so the version you can install today will be getting updates and become more advanced as time goes on. You can already listen to Ron narrating the introduction, and look through a couple of different scenes.
In 2007, Professor Stephen Harding and a team of archaeologists from the University of Nottingham brought attention to a possible Viking boat buried under the car park at the Railway Inn, Meols.
In 1938, workmen laying the car park first spotted the remains. But with the risk that an archaeological dig would delay building work, the find was kept secret. One of the workers, however, made a few notes, and in 1991 his son produced a report and a sketch. The report was brought to the attention of the current landlord, and so the Nottingham team was brought in, conducting a Ground Penetrating Radar survey of the location.
Viking boat survey
The survey seemed to show a ‘boat-shaped anomaly’ in the underlying clay. Further survey will assess the potential for an evaluation excavation.
The Viking boat find is particularly interesting from a landscape point of view. The pub is over a kilometre from the coast, and even further from the medieval shore. Professor Harding suggests that a flood may have washed the boat inland. Another possibility is that it sunk in one of the many marshes which covered the area at the time.
Old Norse field and track names are all over the area. It wasn’t unknown for the people of the time to drag their ships substantial distances inland if necessary.
Liverpool’s historic landscape influenced even this bit of history. The grenades were probably made at the Royal Ordnance Factory (ROF) in Kirkby, on the site which later became the Kirkby Industrial Estate.
A similar factory was sited in Speke, as well as other locations around the country.
In the 1930s and 40s the outskirts of Liverpool were popular for this kind of development. The flat landscape provided room for expansion, and the population was increasing rapidly. Following slum clearances in the city centre, men and women had moved to the outskirts. They formed the workforce needed by the factories.
The government of the time judged these areas to be relatively ‘safe’. A huge area of the country , from Bristol to Linlithgow in Scotland, was a fitting place for these factories.
The areas were a good distance from centres of population, but had good road and rail links. Because of this it was easy to take the finished products to where they were needed.
Ridge and Furrow formations are possibly one of the best-known archaeological features which survive into the modern day. You can see these long, sinuous raises beds of earth across Britain. They survive particularly well in Northamptonshire, Cambridgeshire and Derbyshire, as well as in other counties.
The remains of this farming technique are visible in two fields in West Derby, both on Eaton Road. The Walker Playing Fields near Kiln Hey are one location, while the Bill Shankly Playing fields on the corner with Barnfield Drive is the other.
They are best viewed in low sunlight, or after a light snowfall. Occasionally a lone golfer tees off from their slopes of a late summer evening!
Ridge and furrow in Liverpool
Ridge and furrow is a form of ploughing that first appears in Britain shortly after the Romans left, and lasted well into the 17th century.
In those times, groups of animals (oxen or, later, horses) pulled a single-sided plough which turned the soil over to one side. This side never altered, which is why the ridge of soil was able to build up.
Low sunlight shows off this great examples of well-preserved ridge and furrow above Wood Stanway, Gloucestershire
At the same time, the furrows were useful drainage channels. Crops like wheat were kept high and dry where they would otherwise have drowned. Rainwater would then have flowed down the furrows to a ditch at the bottom of the slope; ridge and furrow always ran up and down slope rather than across.
The ridges were an elongated reverse-S shape – largely straight with slight curves where the plough and animals turned. This helped the team to line up with the next furrow.
Each of the ridges which grew up became known as a land. Lands were a measure of area and value, such as when calculating the work a ploughman had done.
Survival of ridge and furrow
Ridge and furrow lines could be built up to 6 feet in height in some places, and so they take a lot of punishment before they’re wiped from the landscape. Modern ploughing will quickly reduce the ridges to nothing. Where no ploughing has taken place since their formation, ridges can survive up to 2 or 3 feet (almost 1 metre).
The two fields we’re looking at here have remains around a foot tall in some cases. However, the ridge and furrow lies at the edges, as the fields are used for football. The sports fields themselves have been levelled.
What this tells us about West Derby
The moderate survival of this ridge and furrow in West Derby can be taken to mean many things.
Either this land went totally out of use once the open field system was no longer in operation. Or perhaps cattle or sheep were grazed here instead. Ridge and furrow survive fairly well when grazed instead of used for crops.
It’s also a fact that parts of south Lancashire were fairly waterlogged in their natural state. The land may simply have been unsuitable for crop growing.
Perhaps the local population fell to the extent that the number of fields needed for crops went down.
Main image: Ridge and furrow remains on the Walker Playing Fields, Eaton Road, West Derby.
In the woods above Woolton lie mysterious remains, amounting to little more than some dry stone walls, in a location reputed to have once held so much more.
Camp Hill is a name which suggests a settlement, if only temporary, with perhaps a military usage, and for years it has been assumed that the site was once the location of an Iron Age Hillfort. Hillforts have been defined as defended upland fortifications where high-ranking chieftains would gather their people around them and plot against their enemies, trade with allies, and swap war stories around the campfire, amidst much mead quaffing.
More recent research has cast doubt on these ideas, however. For a start, the archaeological evidence from the hillforts dotted around the country is extremely varied. Some forts had three or four huge ramparts, and were certainly heavily defended. There was even evidence (in the form of human bones with arrows embedded in them) of periods of violence at these sites. At the other end of the scale were smaller sites, with less evidence for defensible banks, and sometimes had very little evidence for any kind of activity in them at all. Shapes vary too. Even the period can’t be pinned down – some sites date from the late Bronze Age, though the majority can be placed in the Iron Age.
The upshot of this is that the vague phrase ‘hilltop enclosure’ is closer to the mark if you want to encompass all the sites that are known.
What are hilltop enclosures?
If these enclosures aren’t defended hillforts, then what were they for? Archaeologists have come up with some sophisticated and subtle theories which match the evidence which has come out of the ground.
Cattle corralling is one definite use, and some hilltop enclosures were used for human habitation as well. Religious and ceremonial activities were probably carried out too, at least at some of these hilltop sites.
And even if they weren’t defended, many of them would have been important symbols of power.
The landscape of Camp Hill
Like many similar sites, Camp Hill rises above the local area on a prominent stretch of high ground. Although there were other hills in the area, like Mossley Hill and other Merseyside uplands, for the locals of future Woolton, Camp Hill would have been of special importance, if only for its sheer presence.
Even if it was not inhabited, or defended, the hill would have acted as a recognisable landmark, a sign to returning travellers that they were home, and a reminder to visitors that a community who could build great monuments lived here. The number of hours work which needed to be put in to build such a monument was proof of the community’s ability to pull together for a common cause.
Further afield, links with neighbouring tribes may have been reinforced by the enclosure. It’s been shown that similar sites in Cheshire and Staffordshire, such as the well-known one at Beeston Castle (which has prehistoric origins), which were in use at the same time as Camp Hill, would often have been visible from each other. Vegetation or adverse weather conditions might have reduced this visibility, but it would have been easy to light a beacon, and at the very least remind your neighbours that you still existed in the gloom!
So whether or not the ‘camp’ was occupied for any stretch of time, it was an important monument and landmark in the most basic sense. You could compare it to Liverpool’s own St George’s Hall: it’s not only important when it is in use, but its very existence strengthens the community bonds of those who would pass it daily.
It’s been suggested that Camp Hill was built in around 150BC, during the Iron Age. The first modern evidence is in map form, as a ‘Camp’ is marked on the Yates and Perry map of 1768. It’s a rough, almost square enclosure on this map, and may not reflect any remains visible on the ground.
Excavations took place on the site in 1952 when a trial trench was dug in the area. Some small drystone walls were uncovered, but nothing was discovered which could date the remains with any certainty. The site is thought to be located near the Sunken Garden in Woolton Woods.
With this lack of firm evidence it’s possible that Camp Hill is nothing more than a legend based on local folklore. The site is on the edge of the large group of hilltop enclosures scattered across Cheshire and Staffordshire, so little research has been done on it.
Despite this, it’s worth keeping in mind that prehistoric Merseyside was more densely populated than is usually thought, and Camp Hill, if it existed, would have been part of a landscape which was incredibly important for locals while also sending out signals to fellow communities dozens of miles away.
Today: Woolton Woods
Today Camp Hill falls within Woolton Woods, a part of the Woolton Hall estate which was owned by the Ashton family from 1772. It passed through the Shand and Gaskell families until it was bought by the City of Liverpool in the 1920s, and is now a public park.
Since that time it has been laid out as gardens, more formal in feel than the other parks across the city. It’s possibly best known for the floral clock, and the tranquil and sheltered places it harbours.
Brook House Farm is the name given to an Iron Age farmstead site in Halewood. It consists of an enclosure surrounded by two ditches (one large and one small), and was discovered via an aerial photograph in 1990. Continue reading →
Liverpool is famous for its docks, and to a great extent its part in the development of railways. The ‘lost’ Manchester Dock is one of the places these two came together.
Revealed by excavation in 2007, the Manchester Dock (now under the Museum of Liverpool) was one of the earliest docks on the river front. It was originally no more than a tidal basin connected to the river Mersey. The dock was used to hold the barges of the Shropshire Union Canal Company, and later the Great Western Railway. It allowed goods to be moved between Liverpool and the rail terminal at Morpeth Dock in Birkenhead.
In this way Manchester Dock played a role as a go-between, from the national rail network (connecting Liverpool – via Lime Street – to the industrial centres of Britain) and further ports of call on the other side of the river. The warehouses standing next to Canning graving docks were, until about 1p years ago, the home of the Liverpool Museum field Archaeology Unit. They still bear the name Great Western Railway on the canopies at the front.
Manchester Dock excavations
Time Team showed a ‘Special’ episode on the Manchester Dock on the 21st April 2008: