Bury Archaeological Group, led by the late Alan Spencer, began in 1953 with a small excavation in the old Grammar School yard behind Bury parish church. The aim of the dig was to recover information about a prehistoric burial site, suggested by the discover by workmen of two Bronze Age cinerary urns in 1908. Although a human skeleton was found by the group, it clearly belonged to the adjacent churchyard which had been encroached upon when the schoolyard was enlarged.


For a decade after its formation, members of the Group familiarised themselves with the local landscape through fieldwork and local studies. A few small-scale excavations were carried out on development sites and proposed pipeline routes, including work at the Iron Age hillfort at Planes Wood near Whalley. It was during a visit to this site by one of our members during pipeline work, that he recovered from the workmen a small hoard of prehistoric bronze implements, now in the British Museum.


In the 1960s, a Bronze Age burial site at Whitelow Hill in Walmersley was completely excavated, during which time the rescue excavation of a threatened Bronze Age cairn at Bank Lane in Shuttleworth also took place. Late in the decade a section of the Manchester - Ribchester Roman road, which formed the ancient parish boundary between Bury and Middleton, disappeared under a housing estate; but not before the Group managed to record two useful sections.


The start of 1970 saw the excavation of a Bronze Age cairn at Wind Hill, Heywood, in progress. A few members volunteered their help on the Planes Wood site, working for J. Hallam and P. Beswick at this time, where our then treasurer enjoyed the rare privilege of finding a few shards of Neolithic pottery.


Remains of the fortified manor house known as Bury Castle, first discovered in 1865, were rediscovered by the Group in 1973. Examination of the south and north east enclosing wall and moat of the Castle continued until 1977. As a result of our work the site became a scheduled ancient monument. Investigations were carried out simultaneously on a vacant plot in Butcher Lane, east of Bury town centre, and a Tudor smithy at Goody Croft, close to Radcliffe Tower. Excavation and recording of surviving structures of Radcliffe Tower took place in 1979/80. Following which, the scheduled area was extended.


Documentary research and fieldwalking in Pilsworth township prompted the Group to look at Meadowcroft Fold in 1983/4. Excavation confirmed early occupation, together with goof evidence of iron smelting in the late medieval period. Similar industrial activity was indicated at Whittle Brook to the south.


Small scale excavations on the site of a county pottery at Boar Edge in east Bury in 1987, designed to sample its 18th century output, provided mostly ceramics from a later phase of production. A pipeline laid through the tenement four years later, removed an earlier kiln to the east of our excavation. A return to Whitelow Hill in 1989, to examine anomalies found immediately outside the cemetery some years earlier, revealed an early medieval potash kiln.


A hiatus in fieldwork during the 1990s encouraged more documentary research. Sixteenth and seventeenth century private records for the manors of Bury and Pilkington were collected, together with tenement leases up to c. 1800. Limited fieldwalking at Sandfield Farm, Unsworth, in 1998 produced a quantity of eighteenth century ceramics from an area with suggestive potting field names. Also in that year the Group co-operated with Greater Manchester Archaeological Unit in its updating of the Bury SMR. 1999 saw a re-excavation of Bury Castle enclosing wall by Gifford and Partners on behalf of the local authority, who consolidated the site and made it available for public view. Bury Archaeological Group co-operated with all concerned.


The Group had long been interested in the medieval estate of Haslam, once held by the Knights Hospitallers, situated in the Elton township. From 2001 to 2003 several trial pits were dug at Meadowcroft Farm, formerly known as Haslam Hey, in search of a capital message. Shards of medieval and early post-medieval pottery were found but results were inconclusive. At Hurst Farm, Outwood, in Pilkington manor, several acres had been acquired for conversion to Community Woodlands. since it lay within the medieval Pilkington Park, the group offered in 2001 to fieldwalk areas to be planted and look at the documentary evidence. The results were published in 2004.


Forty five years after its initial investigation into the site of Gristlehurst Hall, Bircle, the Group returned in 2003 for another eleven seasons.


Norman Tyson



Bury Archaeological Group

Est. 1953

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