Like giant mole hills, mounds of earth have recently appeared on the site adjacent to the City of Manchester Stadium. Len Grant dons hard hat to investigate east Manchester’s industrial past revealed by a team of archaeologists.
It’s the site once earmarked for the ‘super casino’ but not so many decades ago it had been the epicentre of east Manchester’s industrial past. Bradford Colliery’s two shafts, each 18 feet wide and a mile deep, satisfied the local industry’s veracious appetite for coal and had done for more than 100 years.
Over the last few weeks archaeologists have been exploring the surrounding area prior to its preparation by New East Manchester for future development.
“We knew there was a medieval timber-framed, moated hall not far from here in the 13th century,” explains Ian Miller of Oxford Archaeology North. “Some evidence of that was found in 2002 whilst digging the tunnel wall for the Metrolink to travel under Alan Turing Way, but we’ve not been able to find anything new on that site.”
Early maps from 1761 show the remains of a moat and the beginning of coal excavation: shallow pits where miners would have recovered coal very close to the surface.
“By the 1840s,” continues Ian, “there were the beginnings of some major development here. Bradford Colliery had been established, a canal arm from the nearby Ashton Canal had been progressively extended towards the two pit heads, local streets had been laid out and houses built.
“But, by 1893, this whole place had exploded into a major industrial powerhouse, centred on Bradford Colliery. Unlike other areas of the first industrial city that peaked during the 1880s and 90s, this small area of east Manchester just continued to grow exponentially.”
Adjacent to Alan Turing Way, the archaeological team has uncovered the remains of what would have been boiler, fan and engine houses for the colliery. Steel-reinforced concrete foundations from a 1950s redevelopment of the colliery sit amongst Victorian brick remnants. A search for the actual mine shafts has not been a priority as these were capped with huge inverted concrete conical ‘plugs’ in the late 1960s when the colliery eventually closed.
“We have also uncovered,” explains Ian, “the intact remains of the nearby Bradford Iron Works, which contains some early examples of modern furnace technology.”
In the shadow of the City of Manchester Stadium the excavations clearly reveal a series of boilers each connected to two steam hammers used to pound the molten iron. The hammers themselves were invented and produced locally at Patricroft, but it is the system of brick-lined flues which indicate the experimental re-use of exhaust fumes.
“Red hot exhaust gases from the foundry’s furnace were sent down a brick-lined flue,” explains Ian’s colleague Graham Mottershead.
“Once the bricks were white hot the air flow was reversed and cold air was drawn in and rapidly heated by the hot bricks. Alternately switching the flow meant the whole boiler system was much more efficient.”
These early innovations at Bradford were adapted and improved until, by the 1920s, foundries and other steam-powered processes were 80-90% more efficient.
“There was huge innovation on this site,” says Ian, “ideas were being tried and tested on an astonishing scale. Being able to see the tangible remains really brings home the incredible industrial heritage we’re celebrating in this area.”