To celebrate English Tourism Week 2019, Visit Manchester organised a culture swap across Manchester’s heritage venues. We were lucky enough to visit the Grade 1 listed Manchester Cathedral where Amos Millington, one of the Cathedral volunteers, gave us a most interesting tour of the building.
There has been a church on the site since before 1086. The Domesday Book that year records that Manchester had a church dedicated to St Mary the Blessed Virgin , probably slightly to the south of where the current building now stands. In 1421, Thomas de la Warre – who was both Baron and Rector of the parish of Manchester , obtained the licenses to found a new ‘collegiate church’ – that is a church with a college of priests and singing men under a warden. This church was dedicated to St Mary, St Denys and St George and hosted many historical events – on 28 October 1787, Thomas Clarkson, the great opponent of the slave trade, addressed a packed congregation calling for abolition.
The early 19th century saw the transformation of the market town of Manchester into the world’s first great industrial city. And in 1847, enacting the Cathedrals Act of 1840, the church which had up until then been part of the diocese of Chester, became the cathedral of the newly created diocese of Manchester.
The Cathedral contains artifacts from all periods of its long life and is an exciting mix of ancient and modern – the tower arch is estimated to be 800 years old; the wonderfully carved 16th century misericords are worth a day’s study at least; and we were blown away by the modern stained glass windows designed by Antony Hollaway.
The first Bishop of Manchester was James Prince Lee who was elected on 17 November 1847. This is the Bishop Lee who was one of the dignitaries approached by Elizabeth Gaskell in 1850 to contribute to a fund to buy the G F Watts painting, The Good Samaritan, which honours Thomas Wright, the prison reformer. Read more about this in our blog about G F Watts.
The Gaskells knew the Lees and on April 26 1850, Elizabeth Gaskell describes to Eliza Fox a visit she makes with William to see them:
And now I’ll tell you a bit about our call on the Bishop. As luck would have it it was a visitation or something-ation, and upwards of 20 clergymen were there! Such fun! we were tumbled into the drawing room to them; arch-deacons and all.( ) Mrs Lee is a little timid woman -I should make a better Bishop’s wife if the Unitarians ever come uppermost in my day: she thinks me ‘satirical’ and is afraid of me Mrs Schwabe says ( ) Luckily we know Canon Clifton and one or two of the better sort, so we talked pretty well until the Bishop came in.
Robert Clifton became a canon when the Collegiate church was elevated to cathedral status and is the Canon Clifton who sent the Gaskells tickets for Charles Hallé’s concerts. She writes to Marianne on 4 September 1852:
Canon Clifton gave me a concert ticket & as Meta had one we came home, had dinner, and went to the concert.
Very many thanks to Joanne Hooper and Amos Millington for such an interesting tour and for nudging us to uncover some of the connections between Manchester Cathedral and Elizabeth Gaskell’s House!
Lesley – House Volunteer