University archaeologists uncover Newton Hall history

Thursday 7 June 2012
Archaeologists from the University of Salford have acted as supervisors to a group of volunteers involved in the excavation of one of Tameside’s most historic sites.

The excavations, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and carried out in collaboration with Tameside Local History Forum, took place in Newton Hall during a period of 17 days between 17th April and 7th May and concluded with public open events days on 6th and 7th May.

Considered one of the oldest houses in the North West, Newton Hall was built around 1380 and originally served as a manor house. Famous for its characteristic cruck frame – a particular structure where two or more “A frames” go from the top of the building down to the ground – it was restored in the 1960’s and is now privately owned by W Kenyon and Sons.

The initial aims of excavation were to uncover and record the remains of the buildings associated with the farm site that appear on the maps dating from the mid 19th Century to the 1970’s and to discover traces of the medieval origins of the cruck hall and its associated buildings.

Seven tranches were opened all around the perimeter and a certain number of notable archaeological finds were discovered.

Dating from the 17th Century, the volunteers found the remains of what has been identified as a Bellarmine jar. Originated in the 16th Century in Germany, these jars take their name from Cardinal Bellarmine, one of the Roman Catholic leaders of the counter-reformation who was labelled as a devil by the Protestants.

These particular jars were sometimes filled with pins, hair, nail clipping and bird bones and used as a protection from evil spirits or as a good luck charm.

Three finds were especially important to put a tentative date to the farmhouse. First was a George I farthing (or halfpenny) useful in that they were only minted between 1718 and 1724.

Secondly was a clay pipe bowl that was dated to between 1640 and 1680. The third artefact was the most exciting, a base of a jar that was green glazed and possibly dating from between late 14th or early 15th Centuries.

Overall, the excavations proved to be a success with an incredible support from the local community. Over the 17 days of the excavations nearly 500 people turned up to help the University’s team, including nearly 300 children coming from ten local schools.

The public open days were successful as well, with nearly 400 people visiting the historic site.

The results of this project suggested also that the site is suitable for further investigation based around the same co-operation of volunteers from the community, archaeological socialites and local schools.  

Brian Grimsditch, from the Centre for Applied Archaeology at the University said: Newton Hall is an intriguing archaeological site with much more going on than appears above ground. Every trench we opened revealed remains from the past spreading over 500 years and though many questions were answered a lot more have been posed by the results of this exciting excavation.

“There was a great deal of learning involved for all those taking part as well as the fun and excitement of taking part in an archaeological excavation. Newton Hall was good for archaeology made even better with the community involvement.”