The History of the Area 

The district of Trafford forms the south-western part of Greater Manchester. Trafford is an entity created in 1974 from the rural townships of Dunham Massey, Carrington, Partington and Warburton, the urban districts of Bowden, Hale and Urmston, and the municipal boroughs of Altrincham, Sale and Stretford.

The Prehistoric Landscape

Evidence of Trafford’s prehistoric past is drawn from worked stone (flint) tools that have been found in several locations across the district. The earliest of these probably date to the Mesolithic period (c.9600 – 4000 BC), and are likely to have been dropped by hunting communities that passed through the area. Mesolithic flint scatters have been found in the parish of Warburton, and between the rivers Mersey and Bollin south-west of Warburton. Large concentrations were also recovered during excavations at Timperley Old Hall. It seems from the location of the flint tools that Mesolithic activity was concentrated on elevated sand and gravel ridges and on the margins of water bodies.

Cereal pollen recovered from Warburton Moss indicates short-lived clearance episodes and some cereal cultivation during the Neolithic period (c.4000 – 2500 BC), suggesting a transition from a hunter-gather lifestyle to the introduction of farming and more permanent settlement in the area. This appears to have been coupled with the adoption of pottery and new types of flint and polished stone tools. Physical evidence for this period that has been discovered on the Dunham Estate, and includes a leaf-shaped flint arrowhead, whilst 20 flints of Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age date were excavated below the northern side of Hale Moss below Timperley Old Hall.

Whilst Neolithic people clearly visited the area, however, there is no firm evidence for any settlement, although the remains of one Neolithic settlement were discovered during an archaeological excavation in Styal in 2002, immediately prior to the construction of a second runway for Manchester Airport. The excavation provided evidence for a small rectangular timber structure that probably represented a Neolithic dwelling, which contained two hearths and waste material deriving from the preparation of food. A scatter of flints immediately outside the dwelling almost certainly marked an area where stone tools had been made.

Clearer evidence for Bronze Age activity (c.2500 – 700 BC) has been discovered across the district. More permanent settlement was established during this period, which was associated with the gradual adoption of bronze for tools and weapons. This period is also characterised by the appearance of circular burial mounds, or barrows, and several examples are known from the Dunham Estate, including one at Fairy Brow, close to Little Bollington. Excavation of this site in 1983 yielded the cremated remains of a young man together with grave goods that included a bronze dagger, and seven flint tools. Radiocarbon dating suggested that this barrow was constructed in c.1500 BC. The archaeological record preserves evidence of significant changes in the period c.1200 to c.500 BC. Environmental evidence indicates a deterioration of the climate, resulting in colder winters and wetter summers. Round barrows were no longer constructed and settlements began to be enclosed by defensive banks and ditches. Several Bronze Age burial sites are also recorded from the district, with concentrations occurring in the lower Bollin Valley. For example, cremation urns and several circular cropmarks were recorded at Dunham Park in the 18th century.

Several potential ditch-enclosed farmstead sites of Iron Age / Romano-British date have been identified in the Trafford district. Cropmarks indicating such sites were identified along a ridge running from Warburton to Bowdon Hill and to the west of the village at Dunham. It is likely that the area was extensively settled with a network of farms and proto-villages by the time of the Roman conquest in the 1st century AD.

From Roman Occupation to the Norman Conquest (AD 43 – 1066)

Physical evidence of life during the Roman period across Trafford is limited to small finds scattered along the lines of former Roman roads. One of the main routes was Watling Street, which connected the Roman auxiliary fort at Manchester with the legionary fortress at Chester. This Roman road took a course that is followed in the modern landscape by the A56, passing through Bowden, Altrincham, Sale and Stretford. It is also thought to have formed the eastern boundary of the later Dunham Massey estate. A short section of this important road was uncovered during an archaeological excavation in Broadheath.

There is a variety of evidence to suggest that Trafford was occupied continually between the collapse of Roman administration in the 4th century to the Norman Conquest in 1066. The Domesday Survey of 1086 records several manors in the area, which suggests that a large late Anglo-Saxon estate was present at the time of the Norman Conquest; the manors of Dunham, Bowden and Hale are recorded as having belonged to Alweard immediately prior to the Conquest. Similarly, place names ending in ton and leah (such as Warburton, Bowdon and Flixton) are generally thought to be of Anglo-Saxon origin, and whilst no Anglo-Saxon settlements have been found through archaeological excavation in the district as yet, the landscape does hold indications of Anglo-Saxon life. The curved form of graveyards at Bowdon, Warburton, Ashton upon Mersey and Flixton, for instance, suggest they could have been built during the Anglo-Saxon period. The church at Bowdon was recorded in the Domesday Survey, and is thought to be of Saxon origin.

A notable feature that has been dated to this period is the Nico Ditch. This defensive earthwork extends from Ashton-under-Lyne to Stretford, and is thought to have been constructed to protect the local population from Danish invasion in AD 869-70.

The Medieval Manor (AD 1066 – 16th Century)

Seven medieval manors are listed in the Domesday Survey of 1086 for the Trafford area, although only four true medieval villages can be recognised in the modern district: Bowdon, Dunham, Stretford and Warburton. These villages would have contained a mixture of dwellings to house the rural population, and probably ranged from small hovels to more substantial buildings. The only medieval town in Trafford was Altrincham, which was created as a planned town, with the market being important to its economy. 

A castle at Dunham is mentioned in a document of 1173, and this is thought to have been a motte-and-bailey fortification that was situated close to the present-day site of Dunham Hall and survives as a low earthwork. The site of another Norman castle lies at Watch Hill in Bowdon, overlooking an ancient crossing point of the River Bollin. 

A hall, together with a chapel, kitchen, stable granary and a gatehouse, had been built at Dunham by the 15th century. This was surrounded by a protective moat, creating a type of medieval moated manor house that was distributed widely across northern Cheshire and southern Lancashire. Their size and complexity reflect the power and status of their inhabitants, and that at Dunham was probably larger than most. It was surrounded by a deer park that is first mentioned in the 14th century. This was enclosed by an inner ditch and outer bank, surmounted by a substantial fence, or pale.

The medieval settlements and halls were encompassed by farmland, which were typically worked by tenants who leased land from the lord of the manor for a fixed term. The leased land was arranged into fields, which differed from modern fields in that they were not enclosed. They instead formed open fields that contained small linear strips of agricultural land.

Post-Medieval Trafford (16th – Late 18th Centuries)

The medieval dispersed settlement pattern of farm, hamlet and village persisted into the post-medieval period. The number of recorded halls and farmsteads in the Trafford area rose from 37 in the late 16th century to 156 in the 18th century. This probably reflected the pattern of steady population expansion that was prevalent throughout the region at this time, creating a demand for new settlements, enclosure of the land and the reshaping of the landscape. This led to the rise of the freeholding yeoman and wealthier tenant farmer, introducing a new social class and higher-status buildings. Some new settlements were focused around existing farms and hamlets, such as Flixton, whilst others were established in previously undeveloped areas, including Cross Street, Hale Barns and Woodhouses in Dunham.

Most of the buildings in the medieval settlements were replaced during the late 16th and 17th centuries, and those that did survive were modified extensively. Timber-framed buildings formed the main type of dwelling during this period, found in the villages and on the isolated farms scattered across the district. Some of these buildings employed a cruck-frame, a tradition of building that had emerged in the medieval period. These buildings were, in turn, often replaced in the late 17th / 18th century by brick-built houses with slate roofs. 

The local economy was still dependent on agriculture, with sheep becoming the main type of livestock as a source of wool and arable crops of flax, hemp and jute being produced for textiles. The demand for these crops declined with the introduction of cotton, whilst cattle became the prevalent livestock as farmers took advantage of the dairy requirements of the growing towns. This is reflected by the creation of a butter and cheese market in Altrincham in 1684.

Salt production was also an important industry locally, with one works situated next to the River Bollin at Dunham Woodhouses. Natural brine was extracted from springs and pits, and boiled in salt pans over a hearth. Evaporation of the brine left crystalline salt, which was used primarily to preserve food. The manufacture of bricks formed another important local industry, as many of the medieval buildings in the district were reconstructed in brick from the 17th century onwards.

Industrial Trafford (18th – 20th Centuries)

The industrialisation of Trafford from the mid-18th century was characterised by rapid population growth and urban expansion, which transformed the landscape. A key development was the completion of the Bridgewater Canal from Worsley to Manchester in 1765, and its extension through Trafford to the River Mersey at Runcorn in the 1770s. The opening of the canal stimulated the development of market-gardening in a number of townships in Trafford; for many years Stretford was famous for its pigs, and Altrincham for its vegetables. There were numerous canal wharfs along the Bridgewater Canal through Trafford, the largest of which was at Broadheath.

Despite the influence of the Bridgewater Canal, mixed agriculture persisted as the dominant industry in Trafford until the mid-19th century, and numerous fine farm complexes survive in the rural townships of Dunham and Warburton. Domestic textile production was the next most important occupation and, during the late 18th century, Altrincham was noted for its worsted manufacture and there were three cotton-spinning factories mills in the town during the 1780s and 1790s. Urmston developed an important domestic cotton-weaving industry during the early 19th century, although this was superseded by the construction of the combined Flixton Cotton Mills in 1851.

The modern suburban character of Trafford was established in the mid-19th century as the area acted as a series of dormitory towns for Manchester commuters. It was during this period that the rural communities of the Trafford area became swamped by the rapid population growth of the old urban centres of Altrincham, Sale and Stretford, and the development of new urban areas in Bowdon, Hale and Urmston; the population of Trafford more than trebled during the 19th century. These new urban areas were dominated by villa-style residences built for the middle classes of Manchester. Notable concentrations of such properties can still be found in Altrincham, Bowdon, Hale, Sale and Urmston. The primary stimulus for this development was the opening of one of the country's first suburban railway lines in 1849; the Manchester South Junction and Altrincham Railway. This was followed in 1873 by the opening of the Cheshire Lines Committee railway line to Warrington via Urmston and Flixton.

The development of the Manchester Ship Canal, and the industrial centres of Broadheath and Trafford Park in the 1880s and 1890s, marked the beginning of serious industrial development focussing on engineering. At its peak Trafford Park, with the Metropolitan Vickers engineering complex at its heart, employed over 40,000 people. Nevertheless, industry in the district remained within tightly defined areas throughout the 20th century, with small ‘islands’ of industrial works fringed by terraced housing and surrounded by tracts of leafy suburbs.

The urban areas of Trafford continued to spread during the 20th century. Estates of semi-detached houses were constructed on the edges of urban centres or as infill development and social housing was built around Urmston and Stretford. Development and re-development continued in the post-war period, as town centres were revamped. Stretford’s earlier shops and terraces were replaced as it became a large, modern commercial core. High-rise flats and social housing was constructed in the districts of North Trafford and Old Trafford.

The Heritage Assets of Trafford

“Trafford’s historic environment incorporates a diverse range of heritage assets from medieval villages, engineering achievements, fine suburban villas combined with a rich history of association with notable residents, sports and recreation. A Local List provides an exciting opportunity for the local community to get involved and identify those heritage assets which make a significant contribution to the diverse character and local distinctiveness of the borough.”

Elisabeth Lewis, Heritage Development Officer. Trafford Council

Medieval Landscapes

Dunham, once the baronial seat of Hamo de Mascy in 1173, has the only surviving deer park in Greater Manchester. Remnants of deer parks remain at Warburton, Hale and Old Trafford. Evidence of these deer parks include:

  • field boundaries;
  • inner ditches
  • outer banks
  • Altringham, being the only medieval town in Trafford, has important historical evidence from this period including:
  • burgage plots

Agriculture in Trafford

Trafford, up until the late 19th century, was a predominately agricultural landscape. Horticulture, including orchards, was also a defining land use in the borough and still evident today. As such any evidence relating to this agricultural landscape is important. Evidence for this includes:

  • farmhouses;
  • barns;
  • stables;
  • bothys;
  • pig sties;
  • workers’ cottages;
  • boundary treatment;
  • methods of enclosure;
  • orchards.

Modes of Transport

The building of canals such as the Bridgewater Canal in 1759-76, and especially the Manchester Ship Canal in 1887-94 were essential for establishing industry in Trafford. The construction of the Manchester South Junction and Altrincham Railway in the mid-19th century had a massive impact on the landscape and the population of Trafford. The railway stations became the foci of new ‘villages’ and the construction of villa-type houses. Heritage assets related to the canals and the railway include:

  • Canals
  • locks;
  • lock-keepers’ cottages;
  • docks;
  • wharfs;
  • aqueducts;

Railway heritage

  • railway stations;
  • warehouses;
  • rolling stock housing;
  • maintenance sheds;
  • signal boxes;
  • water towers;
  • offices;
  • associated hotels. 

Industrial Expansion

The building of the canals also led to the creation of industrial parks during the end of the 19th century, as industrialisation began to affect the landscape of Trafford. Features associated with these 19th-century industrial parks include:

  • shipping facilities;
  • warehouses;
  • utilities;
  • workers’ housing.

Our Building Traditions

Most of the character of Trafford’s main settlements comes from the suburban growth of the 19th and 20th centuries. The construction of the railways throughout the 19th century led to the emergence of suburbs; with the construction of villa-type houses centred around railway stations. Local building materials such as sandstone were quarried in the Trafford area and it was used for plinths for timber-framed and brick houses in the locality, as well as in the striking boundary walls within the Victorian and Edwardian villa suburbs across the Borough. Local building traditions give areas of the district a distinct visual character. Evidence of these local building traditions include:

  • gauged brickwork;
  • use of white Bowdon brick;
  • black and white Cheshire-revival detailing; 
  • use of blue Welsh or Cumbrian slate;
  • stone flag walls.

Old Trafford’s association with sports and recreation can be evidenced by the gates at White City retail park, which are the remains of the Royal Horticultural and Botanical Gardens that were opened at the site in 1829. Old Trafford has been home to legendary sporting venues, stadiums and teams from 19th century, including Manchester United Football Club and Lancashire Country Cricket Club.