Manchester Metro Link Building Recording and Archaeological Excavation

Greater Manchester

Client

Laing O’Rourke/Volker Rail/Thales joint venture (MPT), on behalf of Transport for Greater Manchester

Services

Building Recording

Excavation and Monitoring

Documentary and Cartographic Research

Between 2009 and 2011, NAA carried out building surveys and excavations in association with the construction of a new tramway between Piccadilly Station in central Manchester to Droylsden.

Two buildings, on Edge Lane, Droylsden and Fair Street, Manchester, were recorded prior to demolition. The surveys comprised photographic records of the buildings and, at Fair Street, measured elevation drawings, plans and a written record. The surveys and supporting studies of historic cartography were used to compile brief histories of each premises. The Edge Lane building was built in the early 20th century, probably for commercial purposes. The Fair Street building was mid- to late 19th-century in date and was originally a cart shed associated with an adjacent machine works, although it underwent a number of structural and functional alterations in the 20th century.

Excavation and monitoring was needed at four locations along the route of the East Manchester Line tramway, at Pollard Street, Holt Town, Sport City and Ashton New Road.

The late 18th and early 19th centuries were a time of tremendous growth in industry and population in Manchester, producing a distinctive townscape of intermixed mills and other factories, canals and workers’ housing, widely known as ‘Cottonopolis’. Parts of a cotton spinning mill, an ironworks and two branches of the Ashton Canal were excavated at Pollard Street. Both the factories were built in the first four years of the 19th century on undeveloped farmland. In their heyday, they were amongst the most important examples of their respective industries, but by 1890 both had gone out of business. Pollard’s Mill was one of the earliest mills designed to use a steam engine to power its machinery and was one of the largest mills in Manchester at the time. The Soho Ironworks developed a national reputation for steam engines, mill gearing and a range of other products.

The level of detail obtained from the excavation and supporting documentary research provided a full picture of the factories’ complex sequence of development. The preservation of remains at Pollard Street was very good, with cellared structures and walls surviving to 1m high. It was possible to examine in detail the internal layout of the major buildings and the mill’s power system. The arrangement of the foundry buildings was also revealed, including the turners’ shop, where two machines for boring steam engine cylinders were installed.

Significant remains of other 19th- and 20th-century industries were recorded elsewhere on the tramway. At Holt Town, walls associated with the Beswick Cotton Mill and later buildings were revealed. Investigation at Sport City uncovered remains of a 19th-century dye works—one of the dependent industries of textile manufacture—including the factory’s power system. Lastly, extensive remains of the later 19th- and early 20th-century chemical industry were recorded along Ashton New Road, a commercially vital industry that has been afforded very little research or excavation.

The Metrolink East Manchester Line project provided an opportunity to examine aspects of the city’s internationally significant industrial history, including a steam-powered mill and structures of other industries—engineering, dyeing and chemical—which were in no small part dependent on the textile industry. The East Manchester Line can be seen to trace the industrial and urban expansion of Manchester, starting at Ancoats close to the city centre in 1800, and progressing east through the Bradford and Clayton areas during the 19th century.

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