What is it? Manchester Cathedral, Grade 1 listed, and 2021 marked the 600th anniversary of the Royal Charter to establish its forerunner, the Collegiate Church of St Mary, St Denys and St George, given by Henry V in 1421. The anniversary is being celebrated this year, as COVID stopped last year’s events. The Cathedral has been involved in the history of Manchester, from witnessing the first fatality of the English Civil War, to the fight to abolish slavery, to the founding of the Shaker sect, to Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Peterloo Massacre, and bombings by the Nazis, the IRA and the Arena terrorist.
What’s it doing on Bury New Road? The Cathedral was here well before the foundation of Bury New Road but is at the very start of the original Roman stretch of the A56 that goes right up to Prestwich Village and beyond.
How important is it? Massively important in the annals of both Manchester and the country, if not the world. It’s been a religious and political football between kings, queens and ‘pretenders’ over the centuries but here’s some other highlights…
1595-1608 – John Dee, the original 007 and Shakespeare’s model for The Tempest’s Prospero is the Church warden (for more on John Dee on Bury New Road see our previous article – click here)
1642 – One of the first battles of the English Civil War takes place on Salford Bridge (now Victoria Bridge near the Cathedral) with the attempted but failed Siege of Manchester by Royalists from Salford. Richard Percival becomes the first fatality of the Civil War when he is shot in Deansgate and, apparently, gets buried in the Collegiate Church.
1742 – Ann Lee, founder of the Shakers (not Bury FC) is baptised in the Collegiate Church, and after she emigrates to America in 1774 the Christian sect becomes popular, and even more popular hundreds of years later in minimalist design chic furniture.
1745 – On 30th November, Bonnie Prince Charlie (the Young Pretender) attends a service at the Collegiate Church and reviews the local Jacobite volunteers in the churchyard (more on this to follow)
1787 – Manchester and England’s formal opposition to the slave trade can be said to have begun in the Collegiate Church… “One of the city’s major efforts in the anti-slave trade movement, which immediately sparked renewed national attention, was the invitation given to Thomas Clarkson to denounce slavery in Manchester” states Washington Alcott on the Revealing Histories website…
“Clarkson’s visit was a watershed that energised the anti-slavery campaign across the country” he adds “His address on 8th October 1787 at the Collegiate Church (later Manchester Cathedral) gave the national abolitionist movement a new focus. From Clarkson’s reception in Manchester and its impact, more local, regional and national anti-slavery lobbying emerged…”
The Manchester Anti-Slavery Committee subsequently organised a petition in support of abolitionist MP William Wilberforce, and it was signed by over 10,500 people – or one in five Mancunians…
1819 – Mary Heys, mother of six and pregnant, was ‘ridden over’ by the cavalry at the Peterloo Massacre, and, four months later, died from the premature birth of her child. She is buried in the Collegiate Church.
1940 – The north-east corner of the Cathedral is destroyed by Nazi bombs, in what became known as the Christmas Blitz as the nights of December 23rd and 24th saw more than 2,000 bombs dropped on the city along with 467 tons of high explosive. The Free Trade Hall and the Royal Exchange were also badly damaged in Manchester. 684 people were killed and another two thousand injured in the raids, which mainly targeted Trafford Park.
1996 – the IRA bomb damages the Cathedral
2017 – the Cathedral becomes central to what it calls ‘spiritual recovery’ after 22 people are killed in the Manchester Arena terrorist attack and many more injured. In 2021 the Glade of Light memorial of the tragedy is sited next to the Cathedral.
For a full timeline of the Collegiate Church and Manchester Cathedral see the Manchester Cathedral website – click here
Bury New Road – ‘a very spiritual, prayerful place’ says Dean of Manchester Cathedral – click here
Chetham’s Library – the oldest public library in the English speaking world – click here