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The Cheshire National Mapping Programme Aerial Imagery Mapping Project

There had previously been little aerial survey undertaken in Cheshire. The aim of the Cheshire NMP project was to provide digital mapping and associated records for those archaeological features visible on aerial photographs and lidar imagery. It also examined the various threats to archaeology in four discreet blocks designed to cover a range of landscapes.

The four landscapes covered were

  • the upland Peak District fringe
  • the lowland area around Chelford
  • parts of the Mersey Valley close to Warrington
  • the Dee Valley on the county’s western border

Black and white aerial photo showing a landscape view looking north to the stately home and surrounding estate of Lyme Park
Aerial view of Lyme Park estate and the surrounding upland landscape of the Peak fringe, looking north taken on 27-AUG-1998 (NMR 17175/34) © Crown copyright. HE

Early sites and Roman activity

Some of the most interesting sites recorded were a small number of potential later prehistoric enclosures. These are rare survivals for Cheshire. A number of curvilinear enclosures, possibly settlement remains or stock management, survive as low earthworks in the uplands of the Peak Fringe. These are rare survivals for Cheshire. Elsewhere,  in the lowland Mersey and Dee valleys, cropmarks indicate that enclosures and possible round houses lie beneath the surface . These are only small fragments of the very early archaeology of Cheshire, but they reveal that people were living in the different prehistoric landscapes across the region.

Another important early site is a large rectilinear enclosure in a meander of the River Dee which may be a Roman fortlet. This is visible on both lidar derived imagery and 1940s aerial photography. Elsewhere, long linear banks in the western Cheshire Plain may be part of the Roman road network, defining parts of the later field systems. Though limited, these do add to our knowledge of the landscape surrounding the Roman city and fortress at Chester.

Colour image of lidar derived data showing a loop in the river as curving black band with faint earthworks in greyscale
Processed lidar image lit from 16 directions, showing the rectilinear enclosure in a meander of the River Dee, which may be a Roman fortlet. LIDAR SJ3955 Environment Agency FIRST RETURN 13-JUN-2006 © Historic England - Source Environment Agency

Surviving medieval landscapes

A very wide landscape of surviving medieval field system blankets much of the area surveyed in the western Cheshire Plain.  The ridge and furrow ploughing and associated boundaries and hollow ways stretch for many kilometres to the east of the River Dee around Farndon and Tilston. Many of the remains are still standing today and this level of survival is not found in any of the other environments covered by the project. This makes it of great archaeological significance.

Settlement remains also survive amongst the field system, next to present day hamlets or villages. There are good examples at  Caldecott Green and Castletown and farms such as Grafton Old Hall Farm and Overton. Higher status features from this period include the motte and bailey border castle at Shocklach, and several moated sites and garden features.

Vertical black and white aerial photo showing well-preserved earthworks of medieval ploughing, in relation to modern features
An area of extensive medieval ridge and furrow ploughing to the north of Farndon in the Dee Valley, surviving as earthworks on 1940s photography (RAF-CPE-UK-1935 FS 2322 17-JAN-1947). Historic England RAF Photography.

Military and wartime remains

Each of the landscapes surveyed contain military remains. These include several searchlight and anti-aircraft batteries from the Second World War. Civilian wartime air raid shelters in Warrington and surrounding villages are also a common feature on historic photography. An interesting site from more recent times was a Cold War Royal Observation Corps underground monitoring post near Aldford, dating from the 1960s.
Larger military sites mapped by the Cheshire NMP include the large ammunition depot and its associated connections to the railway network on Sandle Heath near Chelford.  RAF (and later USAAF) Burtonwood, near Warrington, was the largest airfield in Europe during the Second World War.  It was connected to a number of military camps and a large depot complex which dominated the Warrington area during much of the mid- 20th Century.

The project

Archaeological Research Services Ltd undertook the project, in conjunction with Cheshire Archaeology Planning Advisory Service and Historic England. It examined 206 square kilometres of Cheshire and mapped and interpreted sites and landscapes to National Mapping Programme standards. The project was completed in February 2017 after recording features dating from the Neolithic period to the 20th Century. All records will be provided to the Cheshire Historic Environment Record 

Cheshire NMP and Lidar Project: Sampling the Peak Fringe, Cheshire Plain and Mersey Valley

Cheshire NMP and Lidar Project: Sampling the Peak Fringe, Cheshire Plain and Mersey Valley

Published 1 January 2017

A report on the aerial survey of the Peak Fringe, Cheshire Plain and Mersey Valley in Cheshire.

The images used on this page are copyright Historic England unless specified otherwise. For further details of any photographs or other images and for copies of these, or the plans and reports related to the project, please contact the Historic England Archive.

For further information on a project or any other aspect of the work of the Historic Places Investigation Team please contact us via email using the link below.

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