Michael Nevell and Norman Redhead - Mellor: Living on the Edge: A Regional Study of an Iron Age and Romano-British Upland Settlement. Manchester Archaeological Monographs Volume 1. The University of Manchester Archaeological Unit, the Greater Manchester Archaeological Unit, and the Mellor Archaeological Trust, A4, pp.126, 105 illustrations, 2005, ISBN 0-9527813-6-0, £10.
Mellor is a straggling village on the western gritstone fringe of the Peak District. Up to 1936 it was in Derbyshire before being transferred in that year to Cheshire. John and Ann Hearle live in the old vicarage adjacent to the parish church. The house and church are sited on a wonderful eminence from which there is a stunning view over the Manchester region and Cheshire plain. On a fine days, the mountains of north Wales are in view. In the dry summmer of 1995 they noticed brown and green patches on the lawn and a green arc running across an adjacent field. When Dr Peter Arrowsmith of the University of Manchester Archaeological Unit, studied the photographs and inspected the site he remarked 'This is old; I know it's old', and how right he was!
A resistivity survey was carried out in the spring 1998, and in the summer digging commenced. Immediately, Roman and Iron Age pottery fragments were found and then, in the 'surreal situation' of the old vicarage lawn, part of an Iron Age ditch cut into the local Coal Measure sandstone, the Woodhead Hill Rock. In the following years this superb ditch was proved to be 4m wide and 2.1m deep. Since then excavations have revealed that there are two enclosure ditches, inner and outer, dating from Late Bronze Age to Iron Age. A round house was discovered within the inner ditch and other roundhouses between the two ditches. Full scale archaeology has continued each year and has shown that there has been a remarkable continuity of occupance back to the Early Mesolithic period, c. 8000-10000 years ago, when there was a knap site or seasonal camp occupied by hunter gatherers. Among the very many artefacts found are a polished Late Neolithic flint chisel, a group of bronze brooches, a nearly complete Iron Age vessel (known as the Mellor pot) and in 2004 a very fine rare (for the region) Early Bronze Age flint dagger. Analysis of artefacts indicate a substantial and prolonged settlement during the 1st to 4th centuries AD, although little structural evidence has yet been found. Quern stones fragments, spindle whorls and loom weights suggest a predominantly civilian Roman domestic settlement.
What is exceptional about this project is the role played by the local community and land owners in association with the professional archaeologists. In 1999, the Mellor Archaeological Trust was formed and, later, Friends of the Trust. In 2001-2 an award of £25,000 was received from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and in 2003-5 a further £50,000. With an annual grant of £5,000 from Stockport MBC, the Trust has been able to fund an important programme of radiocarbon dating of deposits and features and employ three archaeologists from UMAU, who are needed to train and supervise the volunteers of which there are over 60. Each September an Open Weekend is arranged for members of the public to learn from the professional and volunteer guides the story of the site and its recent excavations. A forunate coincidence was the conversion in 2000 of the old Mellor school adjacent to the church into a parish centre which can used for displays and talks. Overall, the pattern of this project set over the last ten years is one which, where appropriate, can be recommended for community archaeology.
This fine volume of ten chapters, seventeen authors, 105 photographs, line drawings, graphs and tables, and a valuable bibliography of over 250 sources, reviews the history of the excavations, the finds and their significance to the regional context of north west England and the broader conceptual understanding of what Robina McNeil describes as 'an exceptional archaeological phenomenom'. It is the first volume in the new Manchester Archaeological Monographs series. The standard set here makes one look forward to the next two volumes which will provide an overview of the excavations on Roman Manchester since 2000, and a report of the proceedings of a major conference on the archaeology of the Lancashire textile industry held in 2004.
Copies are for sale at New Mills Heritage Centre, Rock Mill Lane, New Mills, High Peak,. SK22 3BN. Price £10 plus £2 postage.