Posted: Friday, 16th March 2012
Faye with MMU's Ben Edwards on the fields
HUNDREDS of local people have been taking part in the University’s archeological dig at Birley Fields.
The ‘Birley Fields Community Heritage Project’ which aims to unearth remnants of churches and homes from the 1850s is open to the public until Saturday, March 24.
So far, interest has been overwhelming with more than 50 people a day turning up to help explore and record a piece of their neighbourhood history.
Dr Faye Simpson, a lecturer in Archaeology and History who is leading the project, said: “It’s an overwhelming success. To see children unearthing from a drain a marble which could have belonged to their great, great, great grandparents is thrilling.
All walks of life
“We’ve had the old, the young, and everyone from amateur historians to cleaners turning up. Some just to have a look, others work all day and then come back the next!”
One local has already landed a job with the site team from Oxford Archaeology North.
To celebrate the project’s success, Faye has worked with Director of Services Mary Heaney to organise an on-site reception for volunteers, councillors, MMU staff and partners. The reception takes place today (Friday) from noon.
The University is moving its faculties of health and education to Birley Fields by 2014 but before work on the new campus begins in earnest (see elsewhere on today’s ManMetLife) the University is keen to understand more about the history of the area and the site which has lain vacant since the early 1980s.
17th century remnants lost
Faye’s team identified three ‘historic’ dig sites, one on Archway (a 17th Century medieval farmstead, Jackson’s Farm), one east of Princess Parkway (the Victorian Catholic Apostolic Church) and the main dig site near Stretford Road/Leaf Street (terraced housing and the impressive Holy Trinity RC Church).
Unfortunately little remains of the farmstead which is appears was destroyed by clearance in the 1990s but the main site has unearthed children’s toys, pottery, clay pipes and bottles, and that ahead of the really detailed in depth search of the house cellars.
Two cobbled streets – Vine St and Dale Street - have been uncovered, while new facts about Holy Trinity, destroyed by World War II bombs - have been revealed.
“The maps of the church are slightly wrong, and there are a number of mystery rooms and features which were unknown,” says Faye. “We have also discovered a marvellous Gargoyle, which we have christened ‘Cookie’ (after the site dig manager).
“The dig is particularly interesting for the community because archeologists normally dig straight through this period into more remote centuries. People can relate to this more recent period of Manchester’s ‘boomtime’, its industrial and social revolution.”
To harness this social history, the project is recording oral histories of residents which will be collated and curated into an exhibition by the department of history to be held at MMU Special Collections in the 2012/3 academic year.
Plaques, historical names and even artefacts themselves may be put forward to be incorporated into the new campus environs. A book of the project and its findings will also be produced.