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Autumn 2021Rochdale Town Hall Square Dig

Led by archaeologists from Salford University, a team arrived on 14 July to dig deep into Rochdale’s working past and found the foundations of homes belonging to wool merchants from the 18th century under the surface between The Flying Horse Hotel and Rochdale Town Hall.

Before it concluded on 31 July, residents were invited to a final talk and tour of a large-scale archaeological dig at Rochdale Town Hall Square.

Archaeologist Joe Brooks said: “Packer Street was known to have been a key part of the trans-Pennine textile trading route from Yorkshire, so people would come and bring wool up Packer Street to St. Chad’s Church steps and over to Manchester.

“Over time as the industry developed, from the medieval period right through to the 19th century, the street got more built up and different buildings were knocked down for new ones to be developed. Then, in 1870, they built the town hall and just demolished the lot.

“The first thing we found was a glazed brick yard surface, which was probably associated with the town hall, possibly separating Packer Street from what were the town hall gardens. Beneath that is what were all the old buildings on Packer Street.”

It is known that in 1851, Rochdale residents had ‘cottage industries’ within their homes, working and spinning wool, making toffee, selling boots, plus baking bread and selling and preparing meat to earn money.

A particularly exciting find was an intact ginger beer bottle belonging to ‘S Casson’ of Rochdale. This was found where resident Samuel Casson, aged 20 in the 1851 census, once lived at 13 Packer Street as a ginger beer brewer.

Examples of domestic fine ware were also found including an ‘Old Mother Hubbard’ nursery rhyme plate, chinaware in a ‘classic Victorian willow pattern’, thimbles, hair clips and cutlery.

“A base of what we think was a jug, vase, or bowl has been of particular interest,” said Graham Mottershead, Excavations Manager at Town Hall Square. “It is early 17th century, possibly pre-1650, which has been amazing to find as we don’t find many like this.

“Tobacco pipes, beer bottles, and a lot of remnants of shellfish have also been found, all telling a little story of a pub of the past.

“As The Flying Horse [opened in 1691] is older than the town hall, that is why this area has been of particular interest.”

The fact that none of the buildings beneath the surface of Packer Street have cellars or basements also sparked interest in the team, as it means it is possible that medieval Anglo-Saxon history could ‘hopefully be beneath’.

Part of the wider £400 million regeneration of Rochdale town centre, the ‘Big Dig’ was the first public event as part of the restoration of Rochdale Town Hall, where residents of all ages helped historians dig out the site, process, catalogue, and clean the finds.