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The Big Dig - Tour and Talk

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Event description
Listen to specialist archaeologists and watch The Big Dig underway! Find out about the history of Packer Street and what they hope to find.

About this event

Hear from archaeologists at Rochdale Town Hall and watch as they conduct an exciting archaeological dig in Town Hall Square.

The Big Dig is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to uncover the story of this area from the late medieval ages through to the 1860s when the town hall was built.

Specialist archaeologists from the University of Salford will be conducting a daily talk where you can find out more about the interesting past of this historical part of the borough as well as what they hope to find in the ground. You'll also hear about why this work is so important and how the findings will be displayed.

Visitors will also be able to see the dig underway on a tour of the site.

Open to all ages, this tour and talk is ideal if you've got a keen interest in archaeology but can't get involved in the dig itself. It's also great for giving kids their first taste of history and archaeology.

Book your tickets today to ensure you don't miss out!


If you or your family are not able to take part in the dig itself, perhaps due to mobility or sensory disorders, this talk is just one of the ways you can still get involved. Take a look at some of the related events taking place below or call the team on 01706 927046 to discuss.


This event has been designed to be Covid-secure and fully compliant with current Covid-19 regulations. This will include:

  • Temperature checks for all visitors on arrival
  • Hand sanitisers available on site
  • Maximum numbers per group and spacing between groups

We would also strongly advise that everyone attending takes a FAST test beforehand. We’re advising all residents to fast test around twice a week to keep covid rates down and reduce transmission. You can find out more about fast testing, which can also be done at home, here:

Please note: restrictions may change at short notice and this may mean we need to cancel this event. In this instance, we will aim to give participants as much notice as possible.


This event, part of the Rochdale Town Hall Restoration project, was made possible thanks to funding from National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Related events

A number of related events will be taking place throughout the duration of the dig.

The Big Dig

You're invited! Join us and take part in a unique, once-in-a-lifetime archaeological dig along the historic Packer Street in Rochdale.

The Big Dig - Tour of the Arts & Heritage Resource Centre

Don't miss this rare opportunity to visit Touchstones' resource centre! Book now to view the fabulous collections currently in storage.

Event Information

Getting here

Please arrive by 12noon prompt so that we can get everybody registered and begin the talk and tour on time. If you arrive after this time and you may be unable to take part in the talk.

On arrival, please enter The Big Dig via the construction site entrance which is situated in Town Hall Square (near to Gracie Fields statue).

There's no car parking on site but you can find a number of pay-and-display car parking options nearby. To find out more, please visit find a car park on Rochdale's Borough Council's website.

The site is also well served by public transport links close by. To travel by bus, head to the Rochdale Transport Interchange. By tram, travel to the Rochdale Town Centre Metrolink station. Both are just a 3 minute walk (0.2 miles) away from Town Hall Square.

What happens on the day

The tour and talk will run from 12noon - 1pm each weekday. During the tour, you'll hear lots of fascinating facts about the dig and the historical area of Packer Street. You'll also have an opportunity to speak to the archaeologists and ask them any questions you may have, as you excavate alongside them.

Toilets will be available on site.

What to wear

Most importantly, please wear shoes and clothes that are comfortable and that you don't mind getting dirty!

Also, remember that, The Big Dig is primarily an outdoor event so dress for the weather and bring sunscreen if the forecast is sunny.

Food and drink

Food and drink is not provided, but why not book a table in one of the town centre's many fantastic places to eat? For inspiration, visit Rochdale Town Centre's website.

Why is this dig important?

Packer Street was an important thoroughfare from at least the later medieval period, providing a direct route between the 13th-century Church of St Chads and the original bridge across the River Roch. Indeed, there is circumstantial evidence to suggest that the medieval town was focused in this area.

There are also documentary indications that Rochdale was occupied during the 7th and 8th centuries with the present St Chads occupying the site of an earlier church, but the presence and extent of an associated Anglo-Saxon settlement is unknown.

Rochdale was a regional centre for the woollen-cloth trade by the 18th century and became an important terminus for the associated cross-Pennine packhorse route. Cartographic evidence shows that a continuous row of buildings occupied this area by the mid-18th century, lining Packer Street and Water Side on the south bank of the River Roch. These are likely to have provided domestic accommodation in addition to a suite of commercial services such as warehousing, stabling, blacksmithing and inns to support the cross-Pennine trade route. An iron and brass foundry, amongst the first to be established in Rochdale, had been erected to the rear of the Packer Street frontage by the end of the 18th century, whilst a large villa residence with extensive gardens occupied a large swathe of ground. These buildings were all cleared by 1866, when the first foundation stone for the Town Hall was laid.

Results of 4 small test-pit surveys suggest remains of the buildings, outbuildings and yards survive along the western side of Packer Street. In undeveloped pockets of land and beneath the yard surfaces, survive layers of relict soil, potentially deriving from medieval and / or post-medieval occupation of the area. Furthermore, the absence of cellars beneath the Packer Street properties raises the possibility for the survival of a multiple phases of earlier occupation. No conclusive remains of the Roch Foundry were revealed during the works. It is concluded that the site, and especially the area around the southern end of Packer Street, has considerable potential for further archaeological investigation.


To book tickets, simply click to select a date above or call 01706 924797 to book over the phone.

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