Future-proofing Chester’s archaeological resource

A Roman bowl from the legionary kilns at Holt (c 90-135). Found at Abbey Green, Chester, 1975-8.

A Roman bowl from the legionary kilns at Holt (c 90-135). Found at Abbey Green, Chester, 1975-8.

Chester is one of Britain’s most important historic towns and is the product of nearly 2,000 years of activity. Its history survives both in its buildings and as complex archaeology.

Between 1970 and 1990, the local authority carried out a large number of excavations, some of which have been published and the archives put in order. However, not all of these meet current standards of packaging and storage, so a project has been set up to address this, with museum archaeologists carrying out the work.

The Historic England-funded project is designed to secure the future of Chester’s archaeological resource. This includes documents, objects, drawings, photographs and digital files. It is not only a research resource of major significance; it will also help inform the future management of the city’s archaeology.

During this process, we have ‘rediscovered’ some fascinating objects. Look out for some of our favourites on Twitter and also on the Grosvenor Museum’s Facebook page


Student training dig in Grosvenor Park, Chester

Late 16th/early 17th century ‘Facon de Venise’ wine glass with a lion mask moulded stem, found during this year's training dig.
Late 16th/early 17th century ‘Facon de Venise’ wine glass with a lion mask moulded stem, found during this year’s training dig.

University of Chester students along with archaeologists from Cheshire West and Chester Council Cultural Services shared their finds from this year’s archaeology dig on May 30 at an Open Day in Grosvenor Park. It was an opportunity to not only see the objects that students have uncovered but also take part in one of the guided tours and learn more about the archaeology in Grosvenor Park.

Since the project began the students have uncovered a Roman road that probably led to the east entrance of the amphitheatre that lay outside the Roman fortress. They have also found traces of timber-framing believed to be from Cholmondeley’s Mansion which was destroyed during the Civil War, and a medieval building relating to St John’s Church, which could have been part of the hospital and chapel of St Anne acquired by Sir Hugh Cholmondeley in the late 16th century and incorporated into his mansion.

Alison Knight, Cheshire West and Chester Council’s Director of Places Strategy, said: “Archaeology holds a fascination with so many people so having the opportunity to visit the dig and learn first-hand about the finds and latest knowledge directly from the archaeologists is an exciting opportunity”.

The training dig is a joint project between our Cultural Service archaeologists and the University of Chester and is an important part of the students’ degree course.


Excavations in Grosvenor Park, Chester

This year’s season of excavation gets underway on 4th May with students from the University of Chester, supervised by archaeologists from Cheshire West and Chester Council and LP: Archaeology.

Grosvenor Park sits next to two major monuments, the Roman amphitheatre and the medieval church of St John the Baptist. Both of these have had an influence on the development of the park, and more importantly what lies beneath.

Until recent years and the present project there have been very few archaeological digs in the park but our excavations have shown that it has a very interesting past with Roman, medieval and later remains.

This year’s four-week training excavation will be concentrating on:

  • revealing the plan of the medieval masonry building and examining its internal features
  • completing the excavation of the ditch feature, first revealed in 2013
  • investigating the presence and nature of any Roman structures or occupation adjoining the Roman road
  • collection of samples from the lower fills of the ditch and drain features to learn more about the environment in the past

Take a look at the students’ blog to see all the latest finds and discoveries:   Student blog



“Hillforts of the Cheshire Ridge” published

“Hillforts of the Cheshire Ridge” by Dan Garner and others has now been published and is available to purchase from the  Archaeopress website

The Cheshire hillforts are some of the most conspicuous features of the prehistoric landscape in Cheshire, located on the distinctive Cheshire Sandstone Ridge. They have been subject to years of archaeological research and investigation, however this has delivered only a limited understanding of their chronology, function, occupation history, economy and status. These hillforts are major elements of the prehistory of the region, but the lack of information about them is a major gap in our understanding.

Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Habitats and Hillforts Landscape Partnership Project focused on six of the hillforts and their surrounding habitats and landscapes. The aim of the project was not only to develop archaeological understanding, but also to raise awareness of these special assets in the landscape and the management issues they face. The Habitats and Hillforts Project was a collaborative partnership, led by Cheshire West and Chester Council, with Historic England, the National Trust, the Woodland Trust and the Forestry Commission, as well as private landowners. These landowners and land managers came together to share approaches to managing heritage assets on the Sandstone Ridge. The project core team was assisted by university specialists and archaeological contractors in surveying, excavating and researching the hillforts. A range of techniques including archival research, geophysical survey, earthwork survey, lidar, fieldwalking, excavation and palaeoenvironmental analysis, was employed to develop our understanding of these significant sites. A large and dedicated group of volunteers and students joined in this work, which encouraged more people to enjoy these assets and take an active role in their management.

The Habitats and Hillforts Project has shed new light on the Cheshire Hillforts. Their chronology can now be seen to have developed from middle/late Bronze Age origins, much earlier than traditionally accepted. The possible development of distinct architectural styles in their construction can be suggested and an enhanced understanding of their surrounding landscape has been achieved. This volume details the results of the four year project, and sets out how these contribute to a deeper understanding of the ordering of the landscape in western Cheshire during the later prehistoric period and beyond. It should form a vital resource for informing future research priorities regarding the late Bronze Age and Iron Age of both Cheshire and the wider North West


Day of Archaeology

Have you ever wondered what archaeologists really get up to? Is it all just digging or is there a lot more to it? The Day of Archaeology project aims to provide a window into the daily lives of archaeologists from all over the world.  The project asks people working, studying or volunteering in the archaeological world to participate with us in a “Day of Archaeology” each year in the summer by recording their day and sharing it through text, images or video. The results demonstrate the wide variety of work the profession undertakes day-to-day across the globe, and helps to raise public awareness of the relevance and importance of archaeology to the modern world.

The project is run by a team of volunteers who are all professional archaeologists and this is the sixth year that the project has been running. Take a look at Senior Archaeologist Alison Heke’s Day of Archaeology.


The secret history of Grosvenor Park

Council archaeologists have once again been working with students to uncover the history of a Chester landmark.

The Historic Environment Team have been working in Grosvenor Park with second year students from the University of Chester as part of their annual training dig.

Over the years there have been few digs in the park. This was partly due to it being on the outskirts of the city and it was thought that there could be nothing there of importance. This recent work has proved, however, that the park has a very interesting past.

During the excavation evidence for Roman, medieval and later history, including a medieval ditch, a medieval building and a Roman road that once led to the east entrance of the amphitheatre was uncovered. The team also found traces of a timber-framed building, part of Sir Hugh Cholmondeley’s mansion, which was destroyed during the Civil War siege of 1645. This mansion incorporated the impressive stone walls of a medieval building that was once part of the precinct of the Church of St John the Baptist.

Said Cheryl Quinn, Senior Archaeologist for Cheshire West and Chester “Besides the digging, the students had a full programme of work, learning how to record the site, clean and identify the finds as well as engaging with the public. They might have found it very daunting at the start, but they ended up enjoying it tremendously”.

If you would like to find out what the students thought of training to become archaeologists of the future then visit their Dig Blog


Archaeology Planning Advisory Service – Summary of the Review March 2015


The Archaeology Planning Advisory Service (APAS) is a sub-regional service which provides advice on the archaeological implications of development for Cheshire West and Chester (CWAC), Cheshire East (CE), Warrington and Halton Borough Councils. The service operates as a shared service between CWAC and CE, and provides services to Halton and Warrington via service level agreements. The service to Halton also includes the provision of advice on the implications of development on the built historic environment. The service is hosted by CWAC.

The service was reviewed in 2014 to consider the ongoing viability of the current service provision, the potential for future service delivery and the opportunities for increased efficiency through growth or retraction of service delivery.

The review process consisted of staff consultation, key stakeholder consultation with services users and national bodies such as English Heritage, public consultation and soft market testing.

Key findings

Key finding from the consultation were: 

  • High levels of satisfaction with APAS and the advice provided across the four authorities served.
  • Successful sub-regional working already in place – a good base on which to build for future service delivery.
  • Good performance with a track record for budget efficiency and securing external funding.
  • Limited market for externalisation and potential for conflict of interest.

It was anticipated that the review would also be informed by a Ministerial Inquiry in to the archaeology sector carried out in 2014, but this report is still outstanding.  However English Heritage has recognised the issues faced by local authorities and has identified collaboration with local authorities to explore alternative models for providing heritage advice in the Historic England Action Plan 2015-2018.


Following approval of the review recommendations by the Cheshire West and Cheshire East Shared Service Committee on 27 February 2015, the Archaeology Planning Advisory Service will: 

  1. Be retained in-house in an enhanced form of the current sub-regional service, through closer partnership working with other heritage agencies.
  2. Remain within the Total Environment Service.
  3. Explore closer partnership working with Chester University, English Heritage and neighbouring authorities and income generation through project working.
  4. Explore opportunities for income generation through introduction of charges for selected archaeological development management services.

Future staffing structure

The current Service Manager post will be deleted, with service management being transferred to the Total Environment Manager. The archaeological professional lead will devolve to the current Principal Development Management Archaeologist, who will still lead on development management. Other staff members will be: one development management archaeologist and two historic environment record officers. This staffing structure will take effect from 1 April 2015.


Archaeology Service Users Consultation Results

The results of the Archaeology Service Users consultation can be viewed here.


Church Lawton Barrow Excavations Published

Two Bronze age round barrows were excavated in 1982–3 at Church Lawton near Alsager by Robina McNeil. They have been brought to publication by Malcolm Reid in the Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society/ Volume 80 / December 2014, pp 237 – 277

Information about the journal of the Prehistoric Society can be found here http://journals.cambridge.org/PPR




New Journal of Chester Archaeological Society Published

Volume 84 of the Chester Archaeological Society Journal covers the years 2010-2014. It features the results of a number of archaeological excavations in Cheshire and Warrington, with reports on Southworth Quarry, Winwick, and Second Wood Street, Nantwich plus a review of work carried out by APAS in 2013.

For more details see the  Chester Archaeological Society webpages

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