Over July and August this year (which on this wintry day seems a lifetime ago) a team comprised of archaeologists, interns and community volunteers were digging up different areas of Market Place. The teams were led by Dr Robert Philpott and Prof Harold Mytum from Liverpool University Archaeology. In fact Harold’s Blog has three separate updates on the Market Place digs. I have pinched some of the photos in this blog from Harold.
There were six small test pits that were excavated over a couple of days in July. Based on the initial findings from these test pits, the archaeologists identified two larger areas for deeper trench digging in August. The trenches were dug for eight days. Over a few days at the end of October the finds were cleaned, sorted and assessed at our very own Prescot Heritage Hub under the watchful eyes of Robert and Dr David Barker, a ceramics specialist.
I would like to thank Robert Philpott, Harold Mytum, David Barker, William Jones, Niall O’Brien and Natalie Wilson for their hard work, sharp eyes and expertise over the course of the digs and assessment of the finds. The same thank you goes to the numerous volunteers – Prescotians and non-Prescotians alike – who gave their time to the Market Place digs. As someone who took part in the digs and the cleaning and sorting, I found the whole thing really fun and a great eye-opener into the world of archaeology.
The core team of the digs: Niall, William, Harold and Natalie – Rob is behind the camera!
What were we expecting to find?
To be honest, it could have been anything or nothing depending on how much previous generations had disturbed or re-levelled the land on which Market Place stands. We know from historic maps, surveys, records, historical accounts, books and photos that the history of Market Place is long and multi-layered.
The current site is a circa 1965/1966 landscaping scheme and toilet block that swept away numerous buildings and structures on Market Place, including the Market Hall (built 1859) a row of buildings and shops along the edge of the Churchyard, and a flight of steps up to the Churchyard. The former Town Hall (built in 1755) stood just outside of our site, but this too was demolished in 1965.
We know that Prescot has had a market since 1333, but probably an ‘unofficial’ market long before this. Along with about 700 years of commercial activity on the site, we know in contained medieval buildings along the edge of the churchyard that were adapted and replaced as required over the centuries. There was also an eighteenth century ‘lock-up’ in the middle of Market Place which was in turn replaced by a roundhouse / lock-up in 1811 and this was in turn cleared for the Market Hall in 1859.
The map of Prescot drawn by Richard Edge in 1743 shows the wedge-shaped Market Place lined with buildings, including a sweeping row of buildings below the Parish Church and churchyard. The Town Hall would be added to the east end of this row in 1755. The tiny gabled building in the middle of Market Place was presumably the ‘lock-up’.
Possibly within our site, but exact location unknown was a medieval building containing the Court Leet and a ‘toll booth’ where market tolls were collected from traders. The Court Leet was the administrative and judicial centre of Prescot, hence the ‘lock-up’ being built in the Market Place to house any detainees pre- or post-hearing. The Court Leet and tollbooth were in turn replaced by the purpose built Town Hall in 1755.
There were also numerous crafts and industries in Prescot: pottery, coalmining, tool making, watch making, glassmaking, and textiles are among the economic activities that were once based in the town. Might there be any trace of these in Market Place?
Market Place in 1848. The circular ‘round house’ built in 1811 was demolished in 1859 and a new market hall built in its place. Market Place itself was closely lined with buildings, but the only survivors today are the row along the east side.
So, as you can imagine, prior to digging we were unsure of whether we would find evidence of the buildings and structures that once stood here or whether medieval (or earlier) artefacts could be found. Or, did the Market Hall builders and road layers of the 1850s clear everything away when they redeveloped the site? Or did the demolition contractors and landscapers of the 1960s destroy any deposits? Or would we find a mix of everything?
Objects were found pretty much from the start of the digs, with Rob, Will, Niall and Natalie noting where each find came from and putting them into numbered bags. The pits where photographed and measured at various points to help build up the record of what was unearthed.
A nice day for uncovering the past. Volunteers and interns setting to work in Market Place.
In addition to the people who had signed up to dig for a morning or an afternoon, we had numerous people just showing up and taking part or at least stopping by to quiz Rob and the team about how they were getting on.
Day by day the bags of finds piled up. Some of the pits hit bedrock, others revealed the brickwork and coursed stone of long-gone buildings.
One of the test pits – the neat brick wall appears to have been a cellar wall with a definite ‘inside’ and ‘outside’.
The Cleaning, Dating and Sorting
Over three days the finds were cleaned and sorted. Rob and ceramics expert David Barker assessed the finds and recorded their assessments and shared them with the group. Several people who took part in the digs were back to clean and sort them and hear the experts’ thoughts on what they’d found in Market Place.
One of the cleaning and sorting days in Prescot Heritage Hub. ON the left is ceramics expert Dr David Barker who cast his eyes over all of the finds.
People have been asking me for weeks and months about the finds. Liverpool University has published its report and you can see it all here in full on the THI website.
I’m not going to summarise the report – it’s a fascinating read. If you are an impatient type of person, pages 9 to 11 summarise the finds, but it’s worth taking the time to read everything that leads up to it.
The huge table on pages 13-20 lists and describes each of the hundreds of finds.
An image from the report. This pottery may well have been made in Prescot.
What Next for Market Place?
The planning permission for the redevelopment of the site should be in place before Christmas and we hope to start the tender process for hiring the main contractor for the landscaping and building works before Christmas too.
The actual building work should take place between March and July 2018!