In 1995 the Poulton Project started with an interest in developing a multi-period archaeological landscape investigation in the Chester hinterland. The hope was to find a settlement that was archaeologically rich over several periods, and set in a landscape accessible to investigation. The chapel site at Poulton more than fulfilled these needs. The history and origin of the chapel were scarcely known, yet it had a close connection with the last Cistercian Abbey of Poulton. Although the Abbey was removed in the 13th century, the Cistercians continued to dominate and shape the landscape around Poulton until dissolution in 1534. In addition to the medieval archaeology, an initial evaluation in 1995 revealed unexpected evidence for Roman and prehistoric occupation. It has since been confirmed that at least two Roman buildings exist, one of which is very substantial, producing numerous brooches, coins etc. Establishment of the nature of this occupation and of possible continuity to the medieval period remains a main research objective at the site.
In the four seasons from 1995 to 1998 excavations completely revealed the upper foundations of the medieval chapel as well as a large part of the cemetary. Artifacts excavated include one of the richest colections of medieval finds from Cheshire, consisting of building materials, domestic equipment, and personal belongings, some of which have been associated with the 56 excavated burials. From the Roman period we also have a large assortment of material including high quality red-slip pottery, brooches, and coins. Earlier periods, as far back as Mesolithic are represented by an assemblage of worked stone tools and struck flint.
Although it began as a joint venture between Chester Archaeology and the University of Liverpool as a training site for students, the project is now run independently by Mike and his team as the “Poulton Research Project”. During the 1999 season, the site was used primarily for training, with financial limitations necessitating that the archaeologists volunteer their time for weekend excavations. The majority of the year was reserved for planning and reorganising the program to facilitate the conversion to independent status. The range of the project has expanded to allow for more outreach groups, children’s programs, and generating a global awareness of the work being done. It also enabled the team to begin approaching financial sponsors worldwide, while maintaining a close connection with businesses in the local community.
The project has come a long way from its humble beginnings. Like the many periods of history that came before, Poulton continues to change and evolve through the hard work and dedication of the professionals and volunteers who care enough to shape it.
The Poulton Project has captured the imagination of many, but what is important however, is to involve the whole community in a project that is expected to last for at least 10 years. Because of the very nature of Archaeology many who would like to be involved become naturally excluded through no fault of the their own.
Access to the site is not necessarily difficult but there is a need to provide special facilities for the needs of disadvantaged groups, both adults and especially children. The long-term goal is to establish a research and educational centre that will cater for children of all ages and in particular provide a multi-faced facility for all to enjoy the pleasures of Archaeology.
We are closely associated with the West Cheshire College as part of its approach to community education programmes, and several of its classes are taught at the Poulton site.
Over the past few seasons the project has run on a shoestring with funding entirely dependant on public sponsorship, special fund-raising events and a few private donations. Our profile has been raised by two documentaries filmed on site for BBC2 “The Works” in 1997 and “Meet the Ancestors” in 1998.
We are actively looking for funding but unfortunately research within Field Archaeology, with a social, community, academic and “practical” emphasis, is not a priority in the modern world so any donations to the project will be much appreciated and used to pursue our aims to bring Archaeology to every member of the community.