Between the summers of 2015 and 2018 staff from Wessex Archaeology’s northern office undertook monitoring and investigative work along the 10 km route of the A6 Manchester Airport Relief Road. The scheme, managed by Carillion Morgan Sindall JV on behalf of Highways England, crossed both Greater Manchester and Cheshire East and involved carriageway improvements and the construction of eleven new or improved junctions.

Work on the scheme was interdepartmental and multifaceted, involving geophysical survey, historic building recording, evaluation trenching and open-area excavation, all supported by our finds, environmental and post-excavation teams.

 

Bronze Age

The earliest site recorded on the scheme lay between Poynton and Bramhall, where a number of pits and a ring-shaped ditch were identified. One of the pits contained cremated human bone radiocarbon dated to the Middle Bronze Age (1380–1130 cal. BC). Another contained pottery of a similar date. The site may have contained a small barrow or territorial monument later used for the deposition of the cremated human remains.

Illustration of the ring ditch and Bronze Age features discovered on the site Photo of the ring ditch discovered during excavations of the Manchester Airport Relief Road
 

Post-Medieval

Immediately south of the Bramhall ring-ditch the backyard of the dwelling marked as ‘Bowerstumps’ on 18th-century maps was investigated. Pottery from the site may reveal that Bowerstumps was occupied a century before the first written records of it appear.

Pottery from Bowerstumps area of the site Pipes from the Bowerstumps area of the site

The area around Norbury proved archaeologically rich. A possible moat could represent an early incarnation of Norbury Hall, whilst the watching brief helped develop the narrative of Norbury’s corn mill; the earliest phase dated to the 18th century, although tree-ring dating of timbers from the site reveal they were felled in the 16th century. The work around Norbury also identified the remains of a pre-18th-century coal mine and exposed the timber foundation of Norbury Bridge over which the old turnpike road used to run. The archaeological works also exposed the footprint of the toll house associated with the turnpike road; built prior to 1850 it was demolished around the start of the 20th century.

Illustration of the toll house found during excavations on the Manchester Airport Relief Road Photo of the toll house found during excavations on the Manchester Airport Relief Road

Less eye-catching but no less significant were the numerous 19th-century field boundaries and field drainage ditches identified along the route. Such features, like the corn mill and the developing road infrastructure, are key indicators of the 19th-century expansion of Manchester and the region’s growing demands for resources in an increasingly industrial world.

 

Publication

An article in the next edition of the Journal of Chester Archaeological Society will detail the Bronze Age features found near Bramhall. An account of the excavation process, the combined results and their wider historical context is available in a popular booklet produced as part of the ‘Greater Manchester’s Past Revealed’ series. Life on MARR: Archaeological remains along the Manchester Airport Relief Road can be downloaded below, with hard copies available from shefadmin@wessexarch.co.uk.