History of Manchester in the Middle Ages
Very little is known about Manchester during the Middle
Ages, and it was by no means an important town as it had been during
Roman times. Few Englishmen would have even
heard of the place, though Salford
would have been well known as would Wigan,
Preston and Lancaster.
After the Norman Conquest of 1066, Manchester was a mere district of
Salford, and the so-called Salford Hundred was a large Manor, covering
all the lands between the River Ribble (Preston) in the north, and the
River Mersey (at Stockport) in
the south. The Salford Hundred and the barony of Manchester were in
the ownership of the descendants of Rogier de Poitevin, a gift from
William the Conqueror for services rendered in the invasion of Britain.
After the Black Death Plague in the late 14th century, the town began
to grow as the textile industry began around the Cathedral area. In
Hanging Ditch, (the remnants of a walkway between the Cathedral and
the Corn Exchange - now 'The Triangle'), evidence of fulling and tanning
industries has been found.
Chethams' Library from the Irwell from an old print; Long Millgate in
the 1870s - little changed since medieval times.
By 1322 there is mention of a fulling
mill in old town records, and Hanging Ditch is thought to have been
named after the manner in which fullers hung their cloth out to drain
and dry over the ditch which was the River Irk (now culvetted over behind
the present day Mitre Hotel). The Mill is referred to as being in "Meal
Gate" (modern Long Millgate, near Victoria Station and Chetham's
Later, Flemish weavers moved to the area, fleeing from religious persecution
in the Low Countries and brought with them new skills, linen, lace and
bleaching. The district of Whitefield, now in the Borough
, is thought to have been named because of Flemish occupation
of the area and the manner in which they laid out their bleached cloth
over the fields on either side of the main Manchester-Bury Road - hence
the 'white fields' (now Whitefield).
Few would know that Manchester once
had a castle! It once stood on the spot now occupied by Chetham's
, and its defensive potential can still be seen from Hunts
Bank near Victoria Station
and the MEN Arena. It was unlikely to have been more than a wooden palisade
on top of a raised natural embankment. The Gresleys, descendants of
Poitevin, built their fortified Manor House here, remnants of which
can still be seen in the raised stone walling from Hunts Bank.
So, medieval Manchester grew up around the collegiate church, now the
cathedral, then the Parish Church of St Mary. At one end was Long Millgate,
the main entrance into the town from the North (as it still is today),
the Market Place (now long since gone) whose place was later marked
by Market Stead Lane (contemporary Market Street), and Deansgate, from
the South and the main road to Chester
By the thirteenth century, Manchester
had become a market town and had applied for and been granted the right
to hold an annual fair in 1223, and the town had grown sufficiently
to be granted a charter in 1301. In 1368, a stone bridge was erected
over the River Irwell to connect Manchester directly to the City
- the first record of any permanent bridge over the Irwell.
The annual fair was held at Acresfield, then open land adjacent to the
town, now St Ann's Square. By this time a regular Saturday market was
being held, and people came from all over the region to buy their wares
Manchester became a Baronial Borough
(thereby an independent self-governing entity) in 1301, still ruled
by the Lord of the Manor, but with an appointed "boroughreeve" (or Mayor)
who handled day-to-day administration of the borough. Manchester was
to change very little thereafter until the 16th century.
Ironically, though the town of Manchester was neither important nor
wealthy, the medieval parish was extremely well off, owning vast tracts
of land, some 60 square miles, stretching from Prestwich (Prestwich-cum-Oldham
as it was then) to the north, Ashton-under-Lyne and the River Tame to
the east, Urmston in the west and Stockport in the South (practically
the whole of contemporary Greater Manchester). When Thomas
de la Warre
was made Lord of the Manor in 1421, their was sufficient
revenue (from rents and leaseholds on the lands which he and the church
owned) to build his magnificent collegiate church and his own manor
house (now Chetham's School). After the dissolution and the Reformation
the lands reverted to the crown and were administered by John
for Queen Elizabeth I.
In 1485 the Wars of the Roses began
between the Houses of Lancaster (signified by the Red Rose), and of
York (signified by a White Rose). Oddly, though these wars were going
on all around, because of its relative obscurity, Manchester avoided
any part in the conflict, and no blood was spilled on Manor soil throughout
the whole conflict. Incidentally, when Henry VII acceded to the throne
he united the red and white roses of the protagonists to form the combined
red and white Tudor Rose. Henry VII, Richard of York's successor passed
via Warrington through Manchester on a visit to his mother - the first
reigning monarch every to visit Manchester!
Between the end of the 15th century and the beginning of the 17th century,
Manchester was to develop from a small provincial township to a major
industrial and commercial hub, pivotal in the county of Lancashire.
Sources: See Bibliography
- Books about Manchester