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An Introduction by the late J. Cuming Walters, M.A., F.R.G.S.

From "Lancashire Ways''. Reprinted from A Pictorial and Descriptive Guide to Manchester (1936)

MANCHESTER, the metropolis of the North, a city of many activities, social and industrial, a mighty political influence, with a population in and around it exceeding that of London, with a history dating back to British times and with relics of the Roman occupation; yet a city labouring under a great prejudice as being wholly commercial and material in spirit, grimy in aspect, and where '' it is always raining." To those who know it intimately, Manchester is a place of culture, of architectural beauty, and of romantic associations. In early times it was linked with the Arthurian legends, and to-day it has visible reminders of the Norman, Tudor, Stuart, and Georgian ages. Little of this is visible, and the stranger is surprised to discover the rare treasures that Manchester can display, and to realise what a history it hoards. The past and present strangely intermingle. He can be taken to see the chained old tombs and the shadowy alcoves in the first free library established in the land, and from the latticed windows can look down upon a playground where boys in Tudor garments are at their sports. Within a five minutes' walk of this mediaeval building he can see the most beautiful of modern Gothic edifices, a superb treasure-house with fortress-like towers, traceried windows, and a cloistered atmosphere, where are stored nearly half a million priceless volumes and manuscripts.

A century or so ago, during a period of ' sudden and rapid growth, Manchester became a medley of dingy structures and ill-planned streets to meet the needs of the moment. The ancient and modern jostled each other, and a gabled or black-and-white mansion might stand next to a ramshackle tenement; certain quarters became congested; a canopy of sulphurous smoke overhung the unsightly scene. That time is gone, and to-day this city of ancient history is one of imposing dignity, with well-fashioned streets and squares, with many buildings of noble proportions, with public institutions of imposing aspect, and with the carefully preserved relics which impart charm to the picture.


No well-informed person can walk along the streets of the city without being reminded of its high antiquity. He steps out of the largest railway station in the world, the combined Victoria and Exchange, and, with the dark-towered Cathedral in sight, dips down into the Tudor home of Humphrey Chetham, complete as when it was built. He can pass out of bustling Market Street, into quiet and curious courts and alleys bearing historic names, where quaint edifices of the past peer out and the fame of bygone celebrities is recalled. He leaves an ultra-modern emporium in the main thoroughfare, crosses the road, and reaches the Shambles with their stalls as they have been for centuries. In the narrow adjoining street he stands before ancient houses and hostelries known to the Young Pretender and the Jacobite troops. In Shudehill he finds, unchanged, a market reminiscent of Bartholomew's Fair, with bookstalls where bibliophiles pick up their bargains; and passing on he comes to the real market itself, one of the largest and most clangorous, towards which the thousands flow in continuous streams each Saturday night. It all seems like fantasy, only it happens to be true.

Whilst we meditate upon such scenes, we realise that the story of Manchester goes so far back that the beginning is unknown. The antiquary, delving deep in the past and accumulating scraps of evidence, finds the flints and bronze implements of pre-historic man: some are now in the Civic and the University Museums. Gradually the fact emerges that many centuries before the Christian there was a settlement in this valley region where ancient man lived in wickerwork huts plastered over with mud. He was long undisturbed, fishing and hunting for his means of subsistence. Here was Mancenion, ''the place of tents," and our thoughts are transported to that dim epoch when the Early Briton roamed the marshes and set up his defences.


In A.D. 79 the tramp of the oncoming Roman legions under Julius Agricola was heard, and for four hundred years the land was governed in the name• of Imperial Caesar. No account survives of the taking of that palisaded camp; but under a railway viaduct at Knott Mill can still be seen fragments of the wall of the Roman fort. Traces of the Watling Street have been observed, and a statuette of Jupiter and an altar dedicated to Fortuna the Preserver (now in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford) were recovered during the excavations.

After the recall of the Legions disruption set in. Down came the invading Picts and Scots; in panic the Britons called on the Saxons for aid, only to fall into thraldom under their rescuers. King Arthur and his Knights could not repress them, though when we wander down Knott Mill we recall the legend, in prose and verse, how Sir Lancelot struck off the head of the cannibal giant in the castle. For two hundred years Mamcestra, as the town was now called, was part of the Saxon kingdom. Then came Paulinus and his disciples on their Christian mission the first church was built, and one deeply significant relic of the time has been preserved-in the Jesus Chapel of the Cathedral is the Angel Stone, a piece .of carving believed to have been part of the doorway of the Saxon church. And so we come to the chief fane itself, the Cathedral, or "th' owd Church" as it is lovingly called, that time-darkened massive building which has seen Manchester change and grow through the centuries.

The story actually begins with the first baron, Albert Greslet, or Grelly, who built his Hall on the site where Chetham's Hospital now stands. The manor had been given to him by Roger de Poictou, the Conqueror's redoubtable colleague at Hastings. Eight of the Greslets ruled in succession, and a wooden church was erected in the precincts of the Baron's Hall. That was the foundation. In course of time the successor to the Greslets, De la Warre, feudal lord and priest, granted land for endowing a Collegiate Church. The men who built it were paid one penny a day, doled out to them from a table at the Seven Stars Inn, which was in Withy Grove across the way. In the fifteenth century the Church was finished. It was dedicated to the patron saints, the Blessed Virgin, Saint Denys, and Saint George, after Agincourt had been won and King Hal had decided to commemorate both English and French heroes, and as we stand behind the high altar we sec the figures in colours.


Before we come to the prosaic facts of later times relating to the all-important position that Manchester occupies in the realm of industry and commerce, we may fittingly consider some of the great men who made it what it is, together with a few leading events which vivify the long story. There was the devout John Huntington, "Batchelor of civil and canon law." the first Warden, named by the founder himself, who built the choir, and whose rebus is to be seen carved on a beam-a hunting with dogs and a barrel or "tun." There was James Stanley, of the Derby family, who built the graceful Derby and Ely Chapels; and there was the bookman Laurence Vaux. Most famous of all was Dr• John Dee, scholar, scientist, astrologer and bibliophile, suspected in a superstitious age of sorcery and secret occult practices, whose magic mirror Queen Elizabeth came to see, and who sent him a reward of two hundred angels to keep a merry Christmas. But the conjuror, who "held commerce with spirits and the devil," had no peace; he had to fly beyond the seas, and he died miserably in old age, an exile.

There was time-serving and illiterate Warden Murray who preached to James I. upon the text "I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ" "Mon," said his theological majesty after the service, " thou art not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, but, by my soul, the Gospel of Christ may weel be ashamed of thee," And coming to later days there was the eccentric "Jotty" Brookes, of whom Mrs. Linnaeus Banks gives so true and diverting a character sketch in The Manchester Man; and then the saintly Dr. Prince Lee, Dr. Fraser who won popular renown as '' the Bishop of all denominations," and the learned William Temple, now Archbishop of York.


Adjoining the Cathedral is Manchester's chief gem of antiquity, Chetham's Hospital, founded by Manchester's most famous benefactor, Humphrey Chetham. The old Collegiate buildings had become his property, and his trustees turned it into a hospital, school, and library in accordance with his beneficient designs. Here ninety four boys were to be taught; here seekers after learning were to resort.

To-day the visitor is conducted over this glorious building, once the residence of the Earls of Derby, may see the rooms with their relics, may seat themselves in the chair where Raleigh is said to have smoked his pipe, may admire the skilful woodwork and decorations, and in the secluded alcoves, may have free access for study and research among the hundred thousand rare and valuable books and manuscripts. All this in the very heart of Manchester, and but just out of the din and dust of the most frequented thoroughfares ; while, passing out of the gateways, the visitor will find himself in the presence of happy schoolboys wearing the long gowns and poked hats of bluff King Henry's time. Maybe he will desire also to read the full story of Humphrey Chetham who sought no honour, refused it when offered, and whose protest against the payment of Ship Money was one of the critical causes of the outbreak of the Civil War.


Overlooking the Hospital we see the old Grammar School, soon no doubt to disappear, but the memory of it will remain. That school has been termed, most aptly, the link between Manchester and the Renaissance. It was never a particularly attractive building, but none the less it throbbed with romance. It owed its foundation to another benefactor, Hugh Oldham, Bishop of Exeter, who in the reign of Henry VIII. noting the " pregnant wit" of Lancashire lads, but saw that the means of education was lacking, made an endowment that they might have " good learning, whereby they may the better know, love, honour, and dread God and His laws." That was just over three hundred years ago, and since that time '' the most democratic of schools," as its former High Master, Lewis Paton, termed it, has carried on its potent work. It has produced many ripe scholars, but standing in the now-deserted porch (for a new, larger, and splendidly designed and equipped school has been established in the suburb of Fallow field), we think mostly of the eccentric Thomas de Quincey in whose autobiography can be read a poignant account of his experiences, his despair, and his flight. Just opposite, in a crook of the street now demolished, were the ancient timbered buildings known as Poets' Corner. Here, at the Sun Inn, the Lancashire dialect poets were wont to assemble and trill to each other their lays. The disastrous Stuart monarchs left traces still discernible. It was here in the Civil War that the first blood was spilt. Loyal de Traffords supplied the town with arms for King Charles, but the people were opposed to absolute monarchy, and when Lord Strange arrived with troops he found a civilian force opposing him. Fairfax made Manchester the Parliamentary headquarters, and when a siege began Colonel Rosworm, a German Leader, took charge, and achieved a brilliant victory. A hundred years later, the long drama was brought to a close, and "the Forty-five" is one of the most thrilling events in its history.


In a byway near the old Market Place a rambling old hostelry is still to be seen. Hither came bonny Prince Charlie with his followers, and made it his headquarters. In the previous year he had secretly visited the town and stayed in Palace Square (now Palace Street, off Market Street), while on his way to Scotland. He came again, attended divine service at the Collegiate Church, occupied the Warden's stall in the choir, and reviewed his troops in the churchyard. He found enthusiastic supporters among the non-juring inhabitants, and the ladies of Manchester wore his colours. Then began the march to Derby, full of hope of triumphs. It was a moment of destiny, but the men of Manchester came back, desperately pursued. The gallant Towneley, Deacon, Siddeley, Dawson, and others forfeited their lives; and the end was Culloden. On the tower of St. Ann's Church, heads were impaled, and there is a pathetic story told of "Bishop" Dr. Deacon whose two sons had suffered, that "when he saw their heads he raised his hat, and said to the bystanders that it was not every father who had sons to die in so glorious a cause".

Buildings and place-names to this day commemorate the tragedy of the '45, that year of battle and of vengeance. It produced an abundant literature also-the ballad of "Jimmy Dawson " and the song '' Farewell, Manchester " have taken their place in the anthologies, and witty Dr. Byrom's lines:-

''God bless our Lord the King, the Faith's Defender,
God bless (no harm in blessing) the Pretender:
But which Pretender is, and which is King,
God bless us all, is quite another thing,"

has passed into the realm of familiar quotations. Go to Kersal Cell, near the Racecourse, that delightful rambling old structure turned from religious to residential use, and you again come to Byrom, and have a vision of the children gathered on a Christmas morning to sing his '' Christians, Awake" to the infectious music of John Wainwright-perhaps the most popular hymn in the world. The manuscript, written for the author's little daughter, is preserved in Chetham's Hospital.


We retrace our steps and arrive at Piccadilly, where from 1754 stood the Infirmary until some twenty years ago, but now an open space laid out as a public garden. An unwonted sight meets our eyes. Along the whole extent of the gardens are benches on which men and women, mostly poor and ragged, are taking their rest. This is in fulfilment of an order of one of the Mosley family that such a refuge shall be provided "for ever," and day and night the homeless and the weary may there find sanctuary – a strange piece of sentiment to survive amid the hard materialism of the age. Down the main street we notice the huge buildings that have arisen on either side, for Manchester is crowded with thousands of traders, buying and selling.

Edward Walters's Free Trade Hall looms up in Peter Street, and recalls dim memories of the Corn Law struggle and the butchery of Peterloo. Now it is a place for public meetings and for the renowned Halle Concerts, which have been continuous since 185 7. You reach Deansgate, name of mysterious origin, but probably a reminder of the ancient "dean," i.e., a hollow, once sloping here to the confluence of the Rivers Irk and Irwell. Badly placed and arrestingly inconspicuous, the most superb of modern edifices may here be found-the Rylands Library. Its red sandstone after forty years, has turned black. The flanking towers, the ornate entrance and great traceried window above it, suggest to the reflective mind the riches within. Nine years were spent in the erection of the building, which was formally opened in October 1899. Mr. Basil Champneys, the architect, competently fulfilled his instructions to construct a building worthy to take its place among the world's great storehouses of knowledge.


From here, we turn up to look at Alfred Waterhouse's Gothic Town Hall, and note the new extensions. Adjoining, is the new Public Library, recently erected at a cost of £420,000. Another turn, and we are in Oxford Street with colossal buildings ; past Portland Street, with its imposing warehouses, sometimes referred to as " the millionaires' road of Commerce," and forward to the University, about a mile beyond, which originated in the College made possibly by the munificence of John Owens. The sumptuous Whitworth Hall, and the crowded Christie Library, are its chief pride. Two miles South on the main road is a fine Hall of residence for Women students. The Faculty of Technology, which has a magnificent building in Whitworth Street, takes the memory back to the days of the old Mechanics' Institutes so characteristic of the aspiring life of the Lancashire artisan intent upon self-culture. Here are 6,500 students and 350 teachers, men who come from all parts of the world to be well equipped for practical work in every sphere of industry. The institution is unique and its upkeep costs £120,000 a year. Packed away in a side street, is a somewhat dour building which kindles interest by the fact that it is the oldest provincial branch of the Royal Society, of which John Evelyn gives an account in his Diary, the Literary and Philosophical, dating from 1781, with a library of 42,000 volumes, and counting among its members those epoch-making scientists, Dalton and Joule. In this house, Dalton made his researches into the atomic theory. These are among Manchester's many contributions to education, and to their number might be added the Art Galleries; the Central, built by Barry, the Whitworth, and a notable one at Platt Hall. In Platt Fields is Barnard's "Abraham Lincoln" Manchester's most impressive piece of statuary. Near here, at Birch, are the new Grammar School buildings.


If we wish to see at a glance the history and romance stage by stage of Manchester, from Roman and Danish times to the making of the Bridgewater Canal, with incidents like the invention of the spinning jenny and the first watching of the transit of Venus by a Manchester astronomer, we must enter the Victorian Gothic Town Hall and see the frescoes of Ford Madox Brown. Since his time, there have been great achievements worthy of permanent record by the painter's brush, chief of which, perhaps, and most wide-reaching in influence, has been the making of the Ship Canal, 35½ miles long, which brought the sea to Manchester and made this inland city the third port in the Kingdom. At the great Docks we behold a dream come true, with the world's largest vessels floating on the waters, and with goods from the miles of wharves in course of transit to every quarter of the globe. It is the climax of Manchester's romances.

Here, then, is a brief outline of this wonder-city of the North, with its chain of parks, with its piled and massive warehouses, its streets with their individual history, its newly made model arterial roads, its literary associations, its old-world Portico Library where the leisurely Victorian reader browsed over his books, its elaborate Post Office of fine design modestly tucked away in a side-street, its Athenaeum frequented by Dickens, Thackeray, Lytton, and Disraeli ; its Banks, with their architectural distinction, its political '' school ; " and its famous men and women in science, literature, drama, and art. All this in a City whose reputation to the outside world is one of sordid commercialism, and that commerce, by some hazy process of thinking, being solely and entirely cotton-an obsolete heresy. Lord Crawford has termed it "a city with a soul," and the modern historian concludes the review of its life through the ages by saying-" In truth, this city of Manchester so modern in appearance, is a veritable home of romance."