Holcombe Moor Heritage Group
Local History on the edge of the West Pennine Moors
Bottoms Mill Site - 2016
The Boxing Day floods of 2015 reached international news because of the collapse of the former Waterside pub which is just down the valley from us in Summerseat. But the floods unfortunately also effected our site too - washing away a section of the bank roughly 3m by 11m. What medieval treasures we lost that day we will never know. But this site has always been at risk from the adjacent brook and so we should not be too upset. Before we began digging, part of the site had already been reclaimed by the stream. Much of what we do can be seen as "rescue archaeology", finding out what was here before it is lost forever. So we continue to dig through 2016.
The first dig of 2016 in April started with a site inspection. It is estimated that some 600 tonnes of earth has been lost. As a consequence of the flood damage, there was a small section of the bank which had been left undermined and had to be collapsed for safety reasons.
We decided to dig three test pits just south of the excavated area, running parallel to Red Brook, to try and establish what archaeology exists in this endangered area. A couple of interesting finds were a broken pipe bowl and a small marble. The rest of the finds were mainly shards of pottery and glass, similar to finds found in previous years.
Western Bay, North West section
Work continued levelling the floor to the height of the small flags bordering the north wall
removing random ash, clay and sand. Two very nice finds were uncovered in this area. A plate and a drinking vessel. The plate was made at Hills Pottery, Burslem in 1860-1863 by Sir James Duke and Nephews. (SEE PHOTOS RIGHT).
Work started on clearing back the base of the western wall to further investigate some features in the wall between the two bays. One of the flagstones near the wall was lifted which revealed a drain capping stone. Further excavations revealed a drain running North
South for some ¾ of the length of the bay. Initially it was supposed that the drain would have met up with the drain running West-East at the front of the building. The West-east running drain capping stones were removed and the drain excavated. Unfortunately no evidence was found for the two drains combining. The stone work of the West-East drain wall is unbroken in line where the North-South drain should have entered.
Southern Section of bay
A couple of sections of the flags between the east and west walls were lifted to carry out excavations. This area is immediately north of the area, outside the south wall, where the slag
and medieval pottery were found. Intention is to excavate the inside of this section of the cottage down to the medieval level to try and ascertain the extent of the area. From the direction of the slag flow, found in 2014/2015, it would appear to continue under the building.
This is assuming it was not destroyed during construction of the building.
Test Pits to South East of medieval section.
The joined south and centre test pits were cleaned in preparation for recording and photographing. The stone layer in the south section of the trench was eventually considered to be natural and not constructed, even though one of the sand/stone interfaces is very straight which does not normally occur naturally. Also the complete absence of any finds at this lower level strongly suggests this is a natural formation.
All the flags covering the drain capping stones were removed to reveal the extent of the drain. The drain definitely appears to exit the building under the south end doorway, but which direction it takes after that is not obvious. The flagstones immediately outside of the doorway will have to be removed to ascertain the direction of the drain. An obvious feature of the drain is that it has subsided in the middle along with the whole section of the flooring from the west wall to the centre of the bay. It is assumed the subsidence has been caused by the water wheel tailrace section void gradually compressing.
The trench, prepared on Saturday, was recorded and photographed in preparation for back filling. The north test pit was taken down to the sand level and comparison levels taken between it and the sand level in the trench. Further excavation of the test pit was carried out
to ascertain the depth of the fine sand. After some 55cm a level of course sand and river pebbles was reached. Work then ceased on this location.
The original reason for the test pits was to try and ascertain the extent of the archaeology south of the medieval section as this area is in danger of being lost through river action. We
are now satisfied that the archaeology does not extend beyond the boundaries of the medieval section, and no archaeology will be lost should the river bank be further undermined.
Both the test pit and the trench were subsequently backfilled.
The drain in the centre bay had appeared to go under the door threshold in the south wall, further investigations found that the drain just terminated outside of the building under one of the flags and did not appear to go anywhere. The most logical explanation is that the drain originally proceeded in a southerly direction, but at a later date was bisected by the west-east drain and blocked off by the stone walls of the drain. It is assumed that the drains original function was associated solely with some factory operation and became redundant when the building was converted into cottages, therefore blocking it off would not have caused any problems.
On some old maps, and also on Lidar photos, there is indications of a wall extending in a westerly direction from the west wall of the western bay. Excavations were started on the wall to see if it may add to the understanding of the function of the west bay. Two enclosed areas in the western bay which are being excavated. The left hand area has proved to be very rich in finds - part of a gear wheel, buttons, pots and numerous pottery shards. This is the area where the jug and plate pieces were found in June. This area would appear to have been a convenient place to dispose of those unwanted bits and pieces. Hopefully it was used as a dumping ground for some time and it may turn out to be a regular treasure trove.
BELOW are some photos of the finds from June and July.
CLICK on one to make it bigger.
ABOVE: The view upstream.
BELOW: The view downstream.
After the Boxing Day floods the damage is obvious
ABOVE and BELOW: Two 19th Century finds. A plate and a drinking vessel.
ABOVE: The new drain found below the flagstones of the cottage era. running North-South. But what was this one for?
BELOW: Somewhere below this dog we hope to find further Medieval finds in the East Bay
Everything in this test pit is deemed to be natural so it has been recorded and backfilled in June.
Hopefully our faithful digger was notified of this first.
If you would like to join us on this fabulous dig - PLEASE GET IN TOUCH with us via our Contact Page - We would love to have more helpers - no experience necessary.
The right hand area, alhough only on the other side of a wall, has produced very little in the way of finds. Probably, as this area does not appear to have an access door, it was fully enclosed and not a convenient place to dispose of rubbish. It is suspected that this area was where the water wheel shaft came through from the centre bay and would have had some form of gearing at the end of it. The original pit has been packed with a very thick sticky grey clay, which due to restricted access, is proving difficult to remove. Current excavations are following the depth of the boundary wall between the west and centre bays which is proving to be very deep. As it is so deep, it must have formed an important part of the building and probably carried a considerable load.
The July dig sessions have unearthed some interesting aspects of the site. Needless to say this results in more questions than answers. Trying to isolate and understand the various development stages of the site is proving to be rather difficult.
West Bay, Small Attached Structure
This is the small area on the west side of the west bay which was opened up last month. At the moment the area appears to consist of two small bays with a passage in front of the bays. Currently there is only a hint of the second bay and this assumption may have to be corrected as clearance continues. A large amount of pottery shards were removed from the area, most of it from one big pot. As the excavated bay is very small there is some speculation as to its purpose. One suggestion was it may have been an enclosure for small animals, as the wall between the two bays consists of a piece of thin vertical stone.
Work continued on excavating the small northern enclosed area adjacent to the east wall. This is one of the two small enclosed areas covered in last month's update which has a wall separating the two areas. As the separating wall was in danger of collapsing most of the upper section had to be removed. This unfortunately resulted in part of the wall between the West and Central bays becoming very unstable which had to be shored up with timber posts.
This small Northern enclosed area has now been excavated down to a stone flagged floor, and during the excavations a number of metal buttons were discovered, some in very good condition. Probably the best find was a cog wheel, which is also in very good condition. One can only speculate as to which type of machinery this item was a part of
It was originally assumed that the main area of the west bay had been excavated down to the natural earth layer. However, as the two adjacent small enclosed areas go deeper than the main bay area, it is possible a lot more excavating will have to be done in this bay. (2017?)
Work was started on unpicking the blocked fireplace situated on the west wall, which incidentally, the small attached structure above backs on to. The fire place had originally been made progressively smaller in three steps. The exercise now is to unpick the stages in the reverse order and record them. The third stage having been removed has revealed an unburnt stone base which appears to have a void beneath it.
The north/south running drain was fully exposed and cleaned out, this proved to be a very well constructed drain. The base was of bonded overlapping roofing slates with the side wall stones bonded to the base slates. Unfortunately, in order to continue investigations in this bay, the drain had to be dismantled after being recorded and photographed.
Work is now in progress slowly taking the surface down to identify the southern limit of the wheel pit and the run of the wheel race. This has to be carried out in a controlled manner so as to identify the various contexts in the soil. To the untrained eye some of the subtle changes in soil colouring is not immediately apparent, so cautious use of the trowel is the order of the day.
Very few finds have been unearthed in this area which, although disappointing, is not unusual for this site. You tend to get barren areas and areas which are quite heavily populated with finds, mainly pottery shards.
Like the Centre Bay this area is still being slowly excavated in order to identify the various contexts. Recently a heavily compacted area of soil and brick particles has been uncovered towards the north part of the bay.
As with the centre bay few finds have been found in this area. However, at the north end of the bay, against the north wall a small section was being excavated and a totally unexpected find was made – a white pottery egg. Was this an ornament or was it used for chicken husbandry during the cottage stage? Maybe the purpose of the small attached structure against the west bay, was a chicken house.
ABOVE: West Bay - small attached structure
BELOW: West Bay wall propped up
BELOW: The Fire Place to be "unpicked"
BELOW: The interior drain before its destruction