|Iron Age steatite spindle whorl (special find number 2931 1) after excavation in Irby
Picture courtesy of the Liverpool Museum
During the Second World War Jim Rogers was digging in his garden in Irby, Wirral, when he came
upon what he thought was a Roman pot. It was 40 years before it was shown to National Museums
Liverpool staff and identified. When an extension was built in the same garden in 1987 more
pottery came to light.
Some time later the owner invited the Field Archaeology Unit to investigate further. Thus began a
long campaign of excavation. It ended up with over 40 trenches in half a dozen gardens. Evidence
of a Romano-British farmstead was found lying under neighbouring gardens. The site also turned
out to have been occupied for much longer than first thought, perhaps for up to 3000 years. The
site began with mid-Bronze Age pottery. We also found the post-holes of at least one circular
building. Radiocarbon tests dated it to around 1520-1010 BC. Roughly a thousand years later,
during the late Iron Age, the site was re-occupied. During this time, probably in the 3rd century BC,
a decorated soapstone spindle-whorl was imported from Anglesey.
There were numerous other Roman period finds. Pottery was relatively common, with nearly 2600
sherds. There were very few coins and no brooches. The ironwork included a padlock, of a type
used on occasion for slave chains and a Romano-British saw. More mundane objects like craftsmen's
tools, hobnails from shoes and nails were also present.
Probably in the 2nd century AD a Romano-British farm was built on the site inside two ditched
enclosures. Two roundhouses were clearly defined and several other buildings were partially visible.
One of the major difficulties was caused by the long duration of the occupation. The sheer number
of post-holes in a narrow area made it difficult to identify building plans.
The site remained occupied until the end of the Roman period and probably beyond. The rarity of
finds from the post-Roman period make it difficult to identify occupation from that date. One building
foundation gully did contain a coin of the early 350s AD along with a radiocarbon date extending
into the 6th century.
There are also hints of occupation during the Viking period. A pottery lamp of a distinctive
Saxo-Norman type from the 10th-12th century was found in a foundation trench. An amber bead
from the site may also have a Viking origin. The possible Viking connection is enhanced by the
place-name Irby. This comes from Old Norse, meaning 'farmstead of the Irish'. In the early 10th
century a group of Norse were expelled from Dublin and were granted lands near Chester. A
concentration of Norse place-names indicates that northern Wirral was one of their destinations.
The Irby site could represent the Viking-period 'Irishman's farm'.
We also found scraps of medieval pottery. This suggested an occupation date of sometime in the
13th or 14th century.
- The Liverpool Museum