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School of Arts, Languages and Cultures

Whitworth Park Dig

Collage of images of the Whitworth Park Dig

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Uncovering Whitworth Park's secret history

On Wednesday 10 July 2013, we tweeted live from the Whitworth Park Dig about the park's archaeology and history.

This annual project at one of Manchester's best loved parks set about uncovering its secret history

Led by archaeologists at The University of Manchester, the Heritage Lottery Fund supported dig aimed to expose and explore the rich vein of Victorian and Edwardian history still hidden from view at Whitworth Park.

Local schoolchildren were invited to work alongside the University's top archaeologists, students and local community volunteers in field workshops until 12 July.

Whitworth Park opened in 1890, soon becoming a popular place for families, couples, and hospital staff and patients.

It has provided a space to commemorate the war dead, helped the civil defence of the city during the Second World War and acted as a venue for political marches and civil rights rallies into the twenty-first century.

But little of the park's heritage is visible today.

Star finds from the dig include:

  • Glazed ceramic 'five stones' and marbles, telling us about the games children played in Whitworth Park.
  • A medallion celebrating the Coronation of Edward VII in 1902.
  • A clay pipe bowl with a skull and cross design, produced by a Manchester factory, and referred to as 'Death and Glory'. The bowl probably commemorates the 17th Lancers regiment who participated in the Charge of the Light Brigade.

Other more mundane objects such as bottles, plates, jewellery and house keys lost by Mancunians over the years, depict the changing lifestyles from the mid 1800s to the present day.

Project partners include the Archaeology Department, The Friends of Whitworth Park, the Manchester Museum, the Whitworth Art Gallery, cities@manchester and the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre – all based at The University of Manchester.

Participants in the project have included local community volunteers, schools, long-term unemployed people, and the CBA Young Archaeologists' Club.

Pleasure, Play and Politics

The team also laid-on a series of workshops, drama performances, open days and daily tours during the excavations. Further public lectures are planned, and between 24 May and 5 October 2014, a free exhibition 'Whitworth Park: Pleasure, Play and Politics' can be seen at the Manchester Museum.

Project Leader, Professor Siân Jones, who specializes in community archaeology, said:

Parks are an important part of the urban social environment informing people's sense of identity, belonging and place. By investigating the history of Whitworth Park, we aim to increase everyone's awareness of the value of these wonderful green spaces in the heart of the city, and encourage people to become more involved in their future. So we are delighted the Heritage Lottery Fund has supported this project to explore its past. Our main objective is to enhance different local communities' appreciation and use of this vital and vibrant urban green space, while being involved in archaeological discovery and research.

Sara Hilton, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund North West, said:

We are delighted to be supporting this excavation project that is giving local people the chance to quite literally uncover the history of Whitworth Park, which has been at the heart of the community for more than 120 years. We are looking forward to seeing what is discovered and urge everyone to take part!

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