Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Continuing Saga of the Grange Farm Excavations…

There is a generally perceived notion about Lancashire that it’s filled with dark satanic mills, narrow soot-coated terraces and women who resemble Les Dawson hoisting their pendulous bosoms indignantly over neighbouring walls whilst silently mouthing about ‘women’s troubles’ to one another.
The latter part of that is probably true, but the dark satanic mills? Such places don’t exist in Lancashire! To the best of my knowledge they never have and, hopefully, never will.

That’s not to say that Manchester and Liverpool didn’t have their fair share of red brick factories in their time. But we’ve got news for our southern reader…Manchester and Liverpool aren’t actually in Lancashire. They might have been once, but despite the protestations of many a modern day Scouser or Mancunian, they’re not any more, and the rest of us, quite frankly, are glad of it. (Well, some of us are…although quite a few more of us still miss the old borders.)

With the exception of the occasional stone built construction, such as Brock Mill, tucked away in the valley bottoms where the steady supply of mountain streams was once harnessed to power the machinery, Lancashire is an agricultural place, full of sheep and cows and cabbages. (And that’s just the local residents.)

Not that we Fylde and Wyre locals are bothered one bit what southerners think. After all, it keeps them away from the place and, let’s face it, we don’t want our pleasant corner of England being sullied by their cosmopolitan presence.

The southerners’ belief in ‘grimy terraces’, of course, is also completely wrong. These northern climes are famous (at least, they are in the northern climes) for buxom, house-proud women.

Nora Batty and the constant brushing down of her stairs is our version of a pin-up girl, whilst every doorstep throughout the county sparkles with the lustre of red, soapy elbow grease. (This causes problems in the winter when sudding down the step is more important to the average housewife than the sheets of black ice it creates on the pavements, but such is life.)
All of which, in an extremely roundabout way, brings me to the fact that this obsession with tidiness throughout Lancashire’s history has resulted in a definite lack of broken pottery and other midden-worthy artefacts when excavating archaeological sites…such as our watermill platform at Grange Farm.

In other words, when we extended Test Pit 004, we found bugger all.

Even the depression in the ‘clay floor’ that we’d hoped would extend for several miles and be full of complicated twists and turns that we could fill with plaster-of-Paris and use to rebuild the mill’s interior mechanism, stopped short exactly half an inch to the west.

Nonetheless, we promised our reader that we’d keep him/her up to date with our progress, so here’s a photograph of the crew hard at work erecting the refreshments tent. (Several members are missing because they were unloading the barrel of Speckled Hen from the boot of Barbara’s car at the time.)

Actually none of that is strictly true. We didn’t find nothing. Chris found three small holes in the clay, right on the edge of the platform. They might have been connected to the tree root sticking up in the middle of them. They might have been rabbit burrows, hastily curtailed when the rabbit smacked its head into the aforementioned stump.
On the other hand, they might also have been postholes, their original occupants, perhaps, responsible for bearing up the load of the wheel shaft and cogs belonging to our mill.

Here’s a photograph of them. What do you reckon?

As for that ‘possible rabbit burrow’, we had a probe of it with a trowel and…well…it turns at ninety-degree angle. Odd behaviour for a rabbit that, unless it was riding one of those motorbikes off Tron.
In fact, much against our original, somewhat dismissive, theory, Chris Clayton has now formulated a more intriguing idea, namely that, because of the cog shaft and the rotating spindles and stuff, mills were prone to burst into flames. Could it be that water was used to ease the friction on the machinery? And could it also be that said rabbit burrow was actually a drainage pipe leading from the base of the cog shaft back into the wheel pit?

It’s difficult to say…but it seems more plausible that right angled rabbits.

Anyhow, because they’re an extremely creative bunch at Wyre Archaeology (especially when it comes to excuses as to why they can’t make it to the excavations) Dave Hampson has produced the following diagram. It shows a cross section of a typical mediaeval watermill, with cogs and wheel shafts and pits and stuff, and an accompanying explanation as to how these might relate to our depression in the clay. (I ought to mention that Dave’s original diagram was a bit more colourful than the reproduction below. He created it in Word, which of course I can’t reproduce on this website, so I had to print it out with a dodgy colour cartridge in my printer then scan it back in again. This is what happens when you buy cheap printers. I’ve also added a highlighted photograph in the top right hand corner, of the depression…for comparison.)

I reckon he’s onto something there.
(Look, just click on the damned thing if you can’t read it properly and stop complaining.)
Actually, Dave has produced another, slightly more complex but equally compelling diagram now, incorporating some of the other bits and pieces we uncovered last week...but that'll have to wait for another time.
Right, enough of that for now. There’ll be more excavation results to follow in future posts, no doubt.


Andrew said...

Wish you had kept your bloody right angled rabbits in your country instead of your minor gentry bringing them out here. Thank god for myxomatosis and calise and the thirties depression when we et them. That they confuse English amateur archaeologists is the most useful thing I have heard about them.

Anonymous said...

The latter part of that is probably true........ Lancashire is an agricultural place, full of sheep and cows and cabbages.

Could the two be connected somehow? I've often been told that the British are the easiest to seduce, and to lay, but only when fully drunk...but I'm sure you can disprove this theory, Brian.

Brian Hughes said...


Admittedly they're not as big a pest as they turned out to be in Australia, but bunnies are still a problem here in Blighty, nibbling cables, stealing Farmer McGregor's lettuces, cornering the Hallmark market etc. That's because, like in Oz, they have no natural predators, having been imported here by the Romans...with the exception of the right-angled ones that were introduced by Pythagorus.


Unfortunately I can't. After two pints of Speckled Hen I'm anybody's.

Anonymous said...

Say no more, Brian!

Brian Hughes said...

I can expect two bottles of Speckled Hen in the post the shortly?

Anonymous said...

Only, if by 'shortly', you really mean never.

Brian Hughes said...

It's still a better offer than I usually get.

Jayne said...

Ner ner ner I told you so.
(ducks from the flying shoes)

Bloody rabbits.
Had to skin and gut the ones my ex went out and shot every bloody night.
I imagined it was him I was working on ;)

Brian Hughes said...


I hope they were wild bunnies and he didn't just have an irrational hatred of the neighbour's pets.

Jayne said...

Brian you misplaced the S in the last word.
Should read pests, not pets :P

Brian Hughes said...

Bunnies aren't pests! They keep our cat entertained for hours.