9th October 2012:
Arden Hall, built by philanthropist Benjamin Hargreaves in 1846 and demolished in 1949, lies within Peel Park, a large recreation area on the edge of Accrington, Lancashire. The park has been the subject of several regeneration schemes and, most recently, Hyndburn Borough Council secured a five-year funding programme from the Forestry Commission, as well as match funding from the Lancashire Environmental Fund, to carry out a suite of improvements. One element of this scheme was a community-led archaeological excavation of Arden Hall, which OA North was commissioned to supervise.
The excavation ran for a three-week period in July, and was extremely well received by local residents and interest groups. Even though the summer was the wettest since records began in 1910, the excavation attracted a core of volunteers who enthusiastically participated in the project and helped to expose the foundations of the hall. Public open days were also held over two weekends, when members of the public were invited to either actively participate in the excavation or just come and see what had been discovered. Some of the older residents were even able to share their memories of the building before it was demolished.
Despite Benjamin Hargreaves having been one of Accrington’s most famous 19th-century residents, and Arden Hall a notable local landmark before its demolition, very little was actually known about the site. The excavation has gone some way to redressing the balance, highlighting the presence and importance of the site to local residents, and enabling a detailed plan of the foundations to be produced. Several distinct phases in the development and expansion of the building during the turn of the 20th century were also identified, which had hitherto been undocumented.
The excavation also provided an excellent opportunity for local schools to experience ‘real’ archaeology, and several school parties participated in the excavation. In addition to helping to discover the foundations of the building, a range of activities were devised that aimed to help the students understand and appreciate the history and heritage of Arden Hall.