Iron Works Revealed

Posted by editor on June 1, 2010 under Environment

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.

Old and new: Bradford Iron Wroks revealed in the shadow of the City of Manchester Stadium

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.

Alongside Alan Turing Way: the colliery buildings

Alongside Alan Turing Way: the colliery buildings

Victorian brick remains and more recent concrete foundations

1950s reinforced concrete atop of brick remains

“We have also uncovered,” explains Ian, “the intact remains of the nearby Bradford Iron Works, which contains some early examples of modern furnace technology.”

"The Iron Works were right here next to Forge Lane"

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.”

"The bricks were laid out in such a way as to maximise their surface area and take up as much heat as possible from the exhaust fumes."

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.”

Nutsford Vale

Posted by editor on November 9, 2009 under Environment

Years ago this patch of woodland in Gorton was a landfill site, but now – after winning a £300,000 grant – Nutsford Vale has its sights set on becoming a visitor destination.

“Every Sunday was disturbed by the whine of trail bikes tearing around,” recalls local resident, Alan G. “It was becoming a playground for bikers and a favourite spot for illegal tipping.”

Nutsford Vale

Nutsford Vale

Fed up with their piece of countryside sinking into abandonment, Alan and some of his neighbours set up the Nutsford Vale Park Project more than 10 years ago to lobby for change. Now, after a decade of small grants and piecemeal improvements, the Vale has hit the jackpot: more than £300,000 will be spent in the next two years to create a valuable community resource.

The money comes from a £4.7 million initiative by the North West Development Agency to fund the remediation of 400 acres (equivalent to about 200 football pitches) of brownfield land in Merseyside and Greater Manchester. The ‘Setting the Scene for Growth’ programme aims to transform what were once municipal tips.

Jackson's Clay Pit, 1964

Jackson's Clay Pit, 1964

A generation ago the 40-acre Nutsford Vale was a known as Jackson’s Clay Pit, with lorries and heavy machinery working the relatively small patch between the densely populated housing. Once closed the pit was filled with council waste until 1978 when, presumably, it could hold no more.

Red Rose Forest, the partnership organisation charged with ‘greening’ Greater Manchester, submitted the successful bid after consultation with the residents’ group. “We’ve been working together for some years now,” says Hilary Wood from Red Rose. “We originally raised some funding through the Green Tips Project which meant we could fence off part of the site, and do a little planting.”

Matthew's Lane Corporation Tip, 1974

Matthew's Lane Corporation Tip, 1974

There’s a tarmac path that cuts across the thinnest part of the site, a convenient and popular shortcut with staggered barriers to deter the motorbikes. The entrances will be a priority once the work gets underway later this year and this path will have a hedgerow running alongside it.

“First, we’ll get rid of all the rubbish,” says Hilary, “then we’ll enhance the entry points and secure the boundaries by finishing off the fencing. We’ll consult with local people about what they’d like to see in the Vale. Maybe there could be a play facility, or a feature, some sort of attraction that would give people a reason to come.”

“Although we want to make it more accessible,” she continues, “we don’t want to lose the wilderness element. A wildflower area is a possibility and it certainly should still be a place where people can escape to.”

The first job will be to get rid of all the rubbish

The first job will be to get rid of all the rubbish

Tony Hall, another resident and member of the friends’ group, agrees: “In the summer, with all the foliage out, you can hardly see any of the surrounding houses. You feel as if you’re in the middle of nowhere.”

“It has the potential to follow in the successful footsteps of Clayton Vale,” says Julie Lawrence, New East Manchester’s Environment Programme Manager. “There’s a strong ‘friends’ group which is essential to the long term success of the Vale and with the right sort of maintenance programme and support after the initial investment, there’s no reason why Nutsford Vale shouldn’t continue to prosper.”

Consultations will take place locally with interested groups to discuss plans for the Vale.

Archive images courtesy of Manchester Local Image Collection.

Produce of Gorton

Posted by editor on October 16, 2009 under Community, Education and health, Environment

Len Grant takes a look at the Gorton allotment project that’s keeping rural skills alive in the city

Growing your own has never been so popular. For many allotment holders it’s all about producing fresh, tasty organic food, with an eye on self-sufficiency and reducing their own carbon footprint.

Rev David Gray: "You don't need an allotment to keep hens."

Rev David Gray: "You don't need an allotment to keep hens."

At the Faith in the Community allotments in Gorton, they’ve taken it a step further. Here local people are being encouraged to not only use whatever space they have – back yard or window box – to grow vegetables and herbs, but they can now learn how to keep ex-battery hens.

“We’ve got 14 chickens, six ducks and five geese at the moment,” says Rev David Gray, whose wife Elaine, runs the allotment. “And all the chickens have been rescued from battery farms.” Apparently Britain’s 20 million battery hens only have an 18-month productive life before they are slaughtered. Increasing numbers are now being rescued by the Battery Hen Welfare Trust (they’re either given away or sold for up to 50p each) and found new homes. With a little ‘TLC’ the hens recover physically from their ordeal and reward their new owners with fresh eggs.

Bath-time“Almost anyone can keep chickens,” explains Rev David, “you don’t need an allotment like this. It would be great to see people across the city building pens and keeping rescued birds.”

It’s a popular prospect for many. Already David and Elaine are offering workshops in ethical poultry care and fox-proof pen construction. “Over a generation we’ve lost many of our basic skills,” explains Rev David, “looking after animals and growing and preparing fresh food would have been second nature, but fewer people now know how to do it. We’re trying to pass on some of those skills before they are lost forever.”

Marrows and pumpkinsOver the last twelve months Elaine has hosted sessions with local volunteers, schoolchildren and young people on probation, demonstrating how to grow fruit and vegetables from seed, and most of all, how to prepare food for the dinner table.

As part of this month’s Food and Drink Festival Open Day, one visitor, Pushpa Lad, has come along to see what’s what amongst the leeks and marrows. “I’ve never been on an allotment before,” she confesses. “My husband is very interested in starting one up and I’ve come to take a look. I can imagine we’d grow coriander, spinach, aubergines, all sorts.”

Pushpa Lad, centre, with allotment volunteer, Elaine Gray

Pushpa Lad, centre, with allotment volunteer, Elaine Gray and John Steadman of Gorton Horticultural Society

“What we’re striving towards,” says Rev David, “is a whole network of local producers who can not only satisfy their own needs but have sufficient surplus to feed vulnerable people across the city. We’re making connections between different groups to achieve this, and the community allotment here is just a small part of that broader picture.”

To find out more about the network of producers helping to feed the vulnerable, visit the “Pharoahs Barn” group on Facebook or email Rev David Gray on

The Battery Hen Welfare Trust is at

Branching Out

Posted by editor on April 1, 2009 under Art, sport and leisure, Community, Environment

Len Grant reports on the fall and rise of an allotment society where there are plans to grow more than just carrots and turnips.

A warm welcome

“My dad had been coming down here for 30 years. It was the only thing he ever did, the only thing left. Then developers decided they wanted the site for houses. A compulsory purchase order was slapped on the allotments and everyone seemed to just give up. Dad told me to sell his tools.”

This is when Patrick Maher decided to get involved and help to save the Edge Lane Allotments Society in Openshaw. He took over one of the derelict plots and began working with the remaining plot-holders to fight for the 4-acre site.

“We had to prove the community wanted to keep the site, which of course they did, and finally, by bringing in new members and working with the council’s allotment staff, we fought off the closure threat. Now, nearly two years on, it’s gone from being a wasteland to a thriving community resource.”

Sharron Comer tried unsuccessfully to find a plot on other sites before taking a look at Edge Lane.

Sharon: "Home grown tastes so much better."

Sharon: "Home grown tastes so much better."

“It was just a patch of barren land, full of weeds when I first saw it,” she recalls. “There was no fencing, no sheds, nothing. That was over two years ago and for the first year I had to weed the plot top to bottom.”

Since then Sharron has laid paths, installed new glass in a derelict greenhouse, planted fruit trees, dug a pond and constructed a summerhouse for her daughter. “It’s great for the kids, they love coming down and helping out. And they will eat all the vegetables because they are the ones who’ve grown them.”Grown from seed

Now Sharron grows all the regular allotment fare: carrots, cabbage, broccoli, turnips swedes, potatoes, parsnips, cucumber, tomatoes, as well as melons, grapes, apples, pears, raspberries, red, black and white currants, blueberries, and gooseberries. Her plot hardly seems large enough to fit it all in. But, not only does she grow enough produce for her own family, but there’s always extra to swap with others.

“Apart from a couple of months in the winter, I never buy anything from the supermarket,” she says. “Home grown tastes so much better. Our carrots are sweeter, our cabbages softer. Supermarket food has travelled for four weeks before it reaches the shelves, so it’s hardly fresh.”

Not since the second world war, when growing you own was pretty much mandatory, has the demand for allotments been so great. Back then there were 1.4 million plots but, through the 60s and 70s, as food became cheaper and the lure of the supermarket stronger, allotment sites were sold off because there was no one to work them.

Edge Lane Allotments

Edge Lane Allotments

Now, with a shift towards environmentally-friendly food, the allotment is popular again. It is estimated that 330,000 people have allotments in the UK with another 100,000 on waiting lists.

“We’ve got 88 plots here,” says Patrick, “and at least another 20 families waiting to get one.”

But Patrick and his green-fingered colleagues are not content with merely reaping the fruits of their labour for themselves. They have their own big plans for development.

“There’s an area by the entrance that needs clearing,” he says enthusiastically. “That can be used for any number of community groups or schools for project work on healthy eating or sustainability. We’ve got a classroom facility too, so there can be a more formal setting if that’s needed.”

The allotment society has already made links with Discus, a youth project in nearby Beswick. “We’re not all bright academics but when you see the sense of achievement on those young people’s faces when they have cleared a site, that’s very rewarding.”

Patrick with his dad, Billy

Patrick with his dad, Billy

Patrick would like to see more disenfranchised young people working the land learning the ropes from older horticulturalists. There’s a funding application pending for a carpentry workshop for young people to make bird boxes and hanging baskets. And, with some of the plots home to donkeys, poultry and even racing pigeons, there’s even potential for husbandry skills to be passed to a younger generation. “If a young person is coming on here every day to look after the animals, then they’re not on the streets getting into trouble.

“This is not the old school allotment,” says Patrick. “This year, we’re going to offer as many different services as possible to as many groups as possible. The more people we can get involved, the better.

Seventy year-old Billy Maher is back on his plot, just as Patrick remembers. “Dad has somewhere to come now. He swears that working on the land has kept him going.”

If your school or community group would like to find out more about the Edge Lane Allotment Society then contact Patrick Maher at