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An archaeological dig has unearthed an 18th century iron foundry in the heart of Ormskirk.

A site at the back of Church Street was stripped and excavated over three weeks by archaeologist Stephen Baldwin and his team in March 2009.

The final report has now been released and the foundry is thought to have dated back to as early as 1796.

The discovery was made after the land belonging to Aughton developer Alan Stockton was surveyed as part of the requirements of planning permission to develop the site.

Stockton Properties plans to develop the land into a wine bar and student accommodation.

Alan told the Advertiser: "I wasn't happy when they told me I'd have to dig up the site first. But when I realised what Steve had found, I got quite interested.

"It's an historic find and it's nice to part of that."

In fact, Steve thinks that the find could be the earliest built foundry in Ormskirk or even West Lancashire.

Ormskirk has long been associated with foundries and before the excavation Steve and his team consulted a large scale 1851 Ormskirk town map which shows the layout and detail of the foundry buildings.

At the time of survey in 1848, access into the foundry was through the weighing machine yard just off Church Street on the corner of the complex.

The foundry buildings are shown arranged around three sides of a courtyard with three large roadside buildings and the iron-monger shops to the north.

Excavation revealed evidence of two large rooms, one which would have been used as a workshop and was probably later lived in. The other room was close to the furnace and chimney and used as a casting floor for moulding cast iron goods.

Steve, of Bluestone Archaeology, said: "This work was kindly funded by Alan and he allowed us the time and resources to enable us to uncover the historic foundry and ensure its survival by record.

"The Ormskirk foundry was established in or before 1796. It appears to have been powered by the steam engine located in the steam-powered corn mill in the south-west corner of the foundry.

"The main product of the furnace would have been pig iron. The molten iron would have been tapped from the furnace and ran off in channels into sand boxes or pigs laid out on the casting floor.

"Other products manufactured in the foundry included cast iron goods such as road bridges and church bells.

"There were also domestic items such as stoves and hob fire grates, pots and pans. The Ormskirk trade directories of 1825 to 1862 list domestic goods being sold in the iron-mongers shop fronting the foundry at 35 Church Street."

Steve added that the foundry continued to be used by different iron-mongers for nearly 130 years until 1924.

"English Heritage recommend looking at an 18th or 19th century foundry because it is really rare to find one intact. Usually new foundries get built over the top so the one underneath tends to get swept away so it was a great opportunity."