Manchester Cathedral

Archives: Manchester Cathedral’s Archives are stored on site in a purpose-built muniments room above the North Porch. The archives consists of two distinct collections: the Capitular papers and the Parish Records.

The Capitular records are the records of the Chapter, i.e. the Dean and Canons of the Cathedral and their predecessors, the Warden and Fellows of the Collegiate Church. The main records are the minutes of the Chapter meetings, which survive from 1635 onwards, but the bulk of the records is made up of sequences of legal records concerning the leases of land on the Chapter Estates, from which the foundation derived its income. In addition there are records concerning the fabric of the building from 1756, Precentors’ registers (recording daily music settings) from 1863, service sheets and printed ephemera from 1832, and photographs of the building, ceremonies and individuals, c1850 to the present day.

The bulk of the material on the Parish side is made up of what is thought to be the largest complete series of parish registers (of baptisms, marriages and burials), for a single parish, in the country. There are over 450 leather and vellum bound volumes, covering the period from 1573 to the present day. The reason for this proliferation of registers is explained partly by the size of the ancient Parish of Manchester: sixty square miles including thirty townships. This is not uncommon in the north west of England, however; the Parish of Whalley included forty-five townships. The main difference was that Manchester changed from being a rural parish when it became the centre of the Industrial Revolution, and the population grew extremely rapidly in a very short space of time, from the middle of the eighteenth century. The other reason for the volume of baptisms and marriages conducted at Manchester was that the Collegiate Church retained a virtual monopoly over the licences to perform the ceremonies. There were outlying chapels within the parish, but a ceremony at one of the chapels was liable to a double fee – one to the chapel, and one to the mother church at the centre. After Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act of 1754, marriages at outlying chapels dramatically ceased. In 1847, the Collegiate Church was raised to Cathedral status and its stranglehold over the income from the ceremonies was broken three years later in 1850, after popular protest. The Manchester Parish Division Act broke up the Ancient Parish of Manchester and created many new parishes, leaving the Cathedral with a residual parish of a single square mile in the centre of the City.

History: Because of the extensive refurbishment carried out both inside and outside the church during the nineteenth century, many people can be forgiven for thinking that, from appearances at least, Manchester Cathedral is a relatively modern church.

In fact evidence of an early Saxon church in Manchester comes from the Angel Stone (right), which was discovered embedded in the wall of the original South Porch of the Cathedral in the 19th century, and which has been dated to around 700. 

It was around the year 1075 that King William the Conqueror gave all the land between the River Ribble and the River Mersey to Roger de Poitou, son of the Earl of Shrewsbury. 

He in turn gave the Manor of Manchester to the Greslet or Gresley family. 

In 1086 Manchester was recorded in William the Conqueror’s Domesday Book, which mentioned that the place had a Parish Church and it is believed that this church was located at the corner of St Mary’s Gate and Exchange Street. 

However, this site was deserted when in 1215 Robert Greslet, Lord of the Manor and 5th Baron of Manchester decided to build the current church adjacent to his manor house (now Chetham’s Library). This became the Parish Church of Manchester.

View a timeline for the history of Manchester Cathedral as we know it.

Misericords: Some of the most fascinating and historically important woodcarvings in the Cathedral are the least obtrusive.

The quire stalls have a hinged seat arrangement known as a ‘misericord’. Hidden on the underside of thee seats are carvings of medieval tales and legends. 

The misericords are thought to be some of the finest in Europe. Many of them depict a moral, in one of them a woman is scolding a man for breaking a cooking pot, a warning to careless husbands perhaps? In another, men are playing backgammon, no doubt the carvers had heard the medieval priests denouncing the game as the devil’s own device for hindering church attendance.

Hanging Bridge: The remains of the bridge that can been seen in the Visitor Center dated from the medieval periods, through there are clues that the visible bridge is the one to cross the ditch. The video below shows the long process of unveiling the bridge, allowing it to be seen in the basement.