The Whitelow Hill Burial Mound, Ramsbottom

Whitelow Hill is situated on the East side of the Irwell Valley, above the town of Ramsbottom. It is an isolated step-sided, oval hillock. The site has a commanding view, with Holcombe moor on the opposite side of the valley forming an impressive backdrop. On its South side the site is overlooked by a prominent hill which is crowned by the ruins of Grants Tower and skirted by part of Pike Wood. To the East, the treeless side of Harden Moor runs northward, enclosing the site in a wide horseshoe.

In the late 17th century B.C. a community of indigenous Bronze Age inhabitants chose the top of Whitelow Hill as a suitable place for their burial and religious practices. The site with its stone features, charcoal deposits and cremations that included deliberately broken grave goods, represents the continuation of Neolithic practices common in northern Britain and the Irish Sea area at that time.

The burial site is oval in shape with a maximum diameter of 90 feet, its main feature being a small central cairn enclosed on its north side by a semi-circular bank of stone. An outer rim of stone defines the barrow’s circumference. A rectangular standing stone measuring 2 feet in height is situated about 10 feet South-West of the central cairn.

Large quantities of collected stone would have been used to build the cairn, but through the centuries much of it has been robbed for re-use in walls and roads. This removal of stone has left the site with a distorted and denuded appearance, making it difficult now for visitors to imagine its original construction.

The excavation of Whitelow Hill revealed a developed structure containing more than a dozen cremation burials, many accompanied by artefacts and pottery. Every Sunday morning, the small group of enthusiasts made the trek up the moor to delve further into the secrets of the isolated site. Only a quarter of the site was explored at any one time, because of its large size. During the course of the dig some of the most important archaeological finds in the area were unearthed; finds which dated back to the Bronze Age and included the cremated remains of some of Ramsbottom’s earliest inhabitants.

These finds told the story of the Bronze Age burial of a young woman, laid to rest many thousands of years ago with grave goods around her, as well as the remains of a young child and other adults. Also discovered were beautifully decorated cinerary urns, a very rare clay stud used (it is thought) to fasten cloaks, cremated remains, a bronze awl and various stone (lithic) tools.

The Missing Bones

After the dig was completed, some of the skeletal deposits were examined by Mr. E.L. Patterson at the Department of Anatomy, University of Manchester. Some of the bones were later sent elsewhere for further investigation but failed to arrive. In May 2010, Bury Museum was contacted by English Heritage who had been working on a project at their store in Portsmouth to review the archaeological material that they held. The aim of the review was to accurately quantify what was held, to determine its condition, to research its history, and to return material to the appropriate museums where this was feasible. During this review they discovered a group of bones simply called Irwell 814. By a process of elimination staff at Bury Museum together with English Heritage identified this grouping as the missing Whitelow Hill bones, which had been sent away for analysis in the 1960s. On the 10th of September 2010, in a formal handing-over ceremony, English Heritage gave back the bones so that they could once again became part of the Whitelow Hill archaeological collection at Bury Art Museum.

The Prestwich Hoard

The Prestwich Hoard is a group of over 700 silver coins dating from the 12th century, mainly from the reigns of Henry I (1100-1135) and King Stephen (1135-1154).

The coins were discovered during re-surfacing work in the playground of the Jewish Junior Day School, Bury New Road, Prestwich in 1972.

A dig began and the site was excavated from 19th April to the 13th October 1972. The coins were originally in a pot vase container which was broken during the discovery. The half coin was originally a full penny. Pennies were often cut in half to make ha’ pennies or “half pennies”.

Bury Art Museum has 12½ coins from the hoard which are on display here, whilst Bolton Museum has 9 coins, including one Henry I, seven Stephen and one David I of Scotland. These were acquired from the British Museum, where 185 coins remain. Other museums with Prestwich Hoard coins include the nearby Manchester Museum.

The clay tableaux in the Prestwich Heritage Museum was created by year 6 students at St Hilda’s C.E. Primary School, Prestwich in 2005. The children were inspired to create an imaginary story of how the coins came to Prestwich.

BUYGM.1974.41 – Purchased from British Museum with 50% V & A grant-in-aid towards the sum