A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 4. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1911.
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The cathedral church of OUR LADY, ST. GEORGE, AND ST. DENYS, (fn. 1) while not challenging a comparison with the great cathedrals of the country, is a fine and dignified building, preserving far more evidence of its architectural history than in the face of the sweeping restorations and rebuildings it has undergone in modern times would seem possible. A project for building an entirely new cathedral church was mooted, but abandoned, about 1881. The present church is 220ft. long from the east face of the Lady chapel to the west face of the tower, and 116ft. wide across the nave. It has a nave 85ft. long, with double aisles and north and south porches, an eastern arm 82ft. long, with north and south aisles and chapels, an eastern Lady chapel, a chapter-house on the south, and a large west tower with a west porch. From the time of its becoming a collegiate church in 1421 its history can be set forth with some completeness, and of work older than this date enough remains, or can be shown to have existed, to establish the fact that before the middle of the 14th century the church was practically as long as it is to-day, the western porch always excepted, and had north and south aisles to nave and chancel, together with a Lady chapel and a west tower. The oldest work still standing is to be found in the west arch and lower parts of the walls of the Lady chapel and in the eastern responds of the quire arcades. It dates from c. 1330, and implies a lengthening, or rebuilding, of the chancel of the old parish church at this date, with the addition of an eastern Lady chapel, the lower parts of the walls of which still remain. The old west tower, pulled down 1864, is said to have been in part of 14th-century date, though the recorded evidence is by no means decisive on the point, but during the pulling down of the nave arcades enough re-used material of the former nave was recovered to show that it had aisles and arcades of considerable scale in the 13th century. The oldest worked stone yet found on the site is the relief of an angel holding a scroll with an inscription, perhaps 10th-century work; but with this exception no details earlier than the 13th century have come to light. The traditions of the occupation of this or a neighbouring site in Saxon times by a wooden building, though embellished by a good deal of circumstantial evidence, seem to have no more solid foundation than the similar stories told of so many ancient sites in England. There may well have been a wooden building here as elsewhere in early times, but the attempts of various local historians to identify its remains with beams at Ordsall, Trafford, Stand, &c. need not be taken seriously. A fine 13th-century church certainly existed here, and was perhaps not the first stone building on the site. It had aisles to its nave, and perhaps to its chancel also, but its plan must remain uncertain. In a building of such a scale the possibility of a cruciform plan with a central tower must always be taken into account, and it is tempting to see in the positions of the west walls of the Derby chapel, and what was once the Jesus chapel, evidences of former north and south transepts. It would be also quite in the normal course of development if it could be shown that the building of a west tower in the 14th century marked the destruction of an older central tower about that time, and the conversion of the church from a cruciform to a continuously aisled plan. Unfortunately five centuries of rebuilding and alteration have reduced any such speculations to the level of an academic exercise, and in any case there is ample interest in the architectural history of the building from the 15th century onwards.
John Huntington, first warden of the college, 1422–58, 'built the choir of Manchester Church with the aisles on both sides, being in length thirty yards, and in breadth twenty yards, from the two great pinacles, where the organs stood betwixt, to the east end of the church.' This work seems to have followed the lines of the older building, but very little of it remains in its original position, both arcades of the quire and the north wall of its north aisle having been rebuilt late in the 15th century; so that it is only in the east walls of quire and aisles, and the south wall of the south aisle, that any of Huntington's work can now exist as he left it. The spacing of the two eastern bays of the south wall of the south aisle, 12 ft. 9 in. from centre to centre, is practically that of four of the six bays of the Derby chapel, and if it be assumed that the width of the third bay of the south aisle, containing the entrance to the chapter-house, preserves that of the bay which opened to a chapter-house built at this place by Huntington, there is space between it and the west end of the aisle for three more bays of about 12ft. 9 in. each. This dimension, then, probably represents the normal width of the bays of Huntington's aisles, and makes it possible that some of the bays of this width in the outer walls of the chapels afterwards added to the aisles may be in part Huntington's work moved outwards and reset.
The main arcades are of six bays, with an average width of 13 ft. 5 in. from centre to centre. At the east end, where they abut on the responds of the 14th-century work, there is a width of 22 ft. across the main span, but at the west of the quire the width is 25 ft. 3 in. This irregularity is evidently due to a desire to get as great a width as possible for the stalls of the collegiate quire, and is, as it seems, the work of James Stanley, the second warden of that name, after 1485. The details of the arcades, however, are of earlier character than would have been the case if they had been built anew at this time, and it must be concluded that the arcades are Huntington's work reset, and adapted to the later arrangements.
Huntington died in 1458, and Ralph Langley, who became warden in 1465, carried on the general scheme of rebuilding. Till his time the nave seems to have been of 13th-century date, and in order to bring it into harmony with the new quire he rebuilt it from the ground, using up a good deal of the old materials. His work has been even more unfortunate than that of his predecessor, the outer walls of his nave-aisles having been entirely removed in later alterations, while the north and south arcades of his nave are now represented by faithful but entirely modern copies, and only the south arcade occupies its original position. The details of the work are evidently inspired by those of Huntington's quire, and are of the same excellent and refined style. When in 1883 both arcades of the nave were taken down, it became evident that the north arcade had been previously taken down and rebuilt, its jointing being much inferior to that of the south arcade. The nave is not on the same axis as the tower, but it is clear from the position of the south arcade that it was so at first, and it was doubtless at the rebuilding of the north arcade that the irregularity came into being, the arcade being set up a little to the north of its former line. The object of this widening was to make the nave symmetrical with the quire after its rearrangement by Stanley, and the rebuilding is no doubt due to him. The panelling on the east wall of the tower must also be part of his work, and it is probable, in spite of a tradition that the tower was in the main the work of George West, warden, about 1518, that Stanley completed this part of the church also.
The general development of the church, up to this point, followed without material difference the scheme common to so many Lancashire churches, which consists of a long clearstoried chancel and nave with north and south aisles, a west tower, and a pair of stair turrets at the junction of chancel and nave. The north stair turret must have been rebuilt when the nave was widened northward, and the chancelarch must also be of Stanley's work, but the south turret may be of Langley's time. It is to be noted that the diameter of the stair it contains is 4 ft. 6 in., as compared with 5ft. in the north turret.
In the 15th century the church began to be enlarged by the addition of chantry chapels. The first to be built was that of St. Nicholas, or the Trafford chantry, on the south of the two east bays of the south aisle of the nave; its date seems doubtful, but the original of the present building was probably set up in 1486. Next came the Trinity chapel, built by William Radcliffe of Ordsall, about 1498, at the west of the former north porch of the nave, whose site is now included in the outer north aisle. In 1506 the Jesus chapel, or Byrom chantry, filling the space between the Trafford chapel and the chapter-house, was built by Richard Bexwicke. The small Hulme chapel adjoined it on the south-east. In 1507 St. James's chapel, afterwards called the Strangeways chapel, was built at the north-east of the nave, by one of the Hulmes of Halton, or by one of the Chetham family. In 1508 St. George's chapel was built by William Galey to the west of St. Nicholas's chapel. There appears to be no precise record of the building of the north chapel of the nave, between St. James's chapel and the old north porch. In 1513 the large Derby chapel was finished and dedicated in honour of St. John the Baptist by James Stanley, fifth warden, on the north side of the north aisle of the quire, equal in length to it, and 24 ft. wide. The Ely chapel, opening northward from the second bay of this chapel, was finished in 1515 by Sir John Stanley, son of the warden, who became Bishop of Ely in 1506. The Lady chapel, built early in the 14th century, is said to have been rebuilt in 1518 by George West, warden 1516–28, but this seems doubtful from the slender architectural evidence which remains. The chapel seems to have been again rebuilt in the 18th century, with tracery which was a curious copy of 14th-century work, and all the external stonework has since been renewed.
The college was dissolved in 1547, but re-established in 1553; the fabric of the church probably did not suffer any serious damage at this date. Again dissolved in 1646, it was again re-established under Charles II, and through the 17th and 18th centuries underwent a good deal of repair in its external stonework. In 1815 a barbarous work of mutilation, in the name of repair, was begun, all the internal stonework of the nave and clearstory, with the north aisle, chancel-arch, and towerarch, being hacked over with picks and then covered with a coat of cement, completely destroying the old face of the stonework and seriously weakening the arches. The screens in the nave chapels were also destroyed and the roofs of the aisles hacked about and covered with plaster. Galleries were set up in the nave, and the irregular line of arches separating the southern chapels from the south aisle of the nave was destroyed and replaced by a uniform arcade which when finished was coated like the older work with cement.
A series of repairs undertaken in a very different spirit, but even more far-reaching in the matter of destroying the old work, began in 1863 with a rebuilding of the west tower, nothing of the former tower beyond part of its east wall being preserved. In 1870 the external masonry of the clearstory, which had been entirely renewed as lately as 1855, was again renewed, and the design altered in several particulars, and in 1872 the main arcades of the nave were taken down and rebuilt in new stone, accurately copying the old. The south porch, which had been rebuilt late in the 17th century by a Manchester merchant named Bibby, was partly reconstructed in 1871, and entirely rebuilt in 1891, while the present north porch dates from 1888, and a baptistery was added at the west end of the south range of nave chapels in 1892.
The arcade between these chapels and the south aisle, built in 1815, was rebuilt in 1885; the corresponding arcade on the north side of the north aisle was also taken down and rebuilt about the same time, and the east walls of the chapels of St. James and St. Nicholas were removed in 1882–4, and arches put in their place. The north wall of the former chapel was also destroyed, and rebuilt in a line with that of the Trinity chapel. The Fraser chapel, opening on the south of the east bay of the south aisle of the chancel, was built in 1887, and the latest addition to the plan is the large porch built in front of the west face of the west tower in 1900. With such a history it is not to be wondered at that there is not an inch of old stonework on the outside of Manchester Cathedral; but, new as it is, the whole surface is toned down to a uniform blackness by the smoke-laden air of the city. (fn. 2)
The Lady chapel is only 15 ft. deep, and is lighted on three sides by pairs of two-light windows, with tracery which appears to be a clumsy copy of 14th-century work. The bases of its east, north, and south walls may well be of this date, and its west arch of three moulded orders with engaged filleted shafts in the jambs is good work of c. 1330. On the west face of the wall above it is a panelled four-centred arch, which seems to be marked as the work of Warden Huntington by his rebus of a hunting scene and a tun, and the chapel is separated from the 'retroquire' by a wooden screen much restored by Sir Gilbert Scott, but preserving some old work, including a St. George over the door. It probably dates from the recorded founding of a chantry here by Warden West in 1518.
The present arrangement of the eastern arm of the church is that the two western bays are taken up by the quire stalls, and the altar stands between the eastern pair of columns of the main arcades, against a modern stone reredos, while screens inclose the quire and presbytery on both sides. The back of the reredos is covered by a piece of tapestry made in 1661, and representing the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira. The lower parts of the screens, and the altar rails, are in wrought ironwork of the 18th century, of very good detail, while the upper parts are of late Gothic woodwork. The stalls are very fine examples of the same period, having been finished about 1508. There are twelve on each side, and three returned stalls at the west on either side of the quire entrance, making thirty in all. The arms of de la Warr occur on a bench-end, in reference to the founder of the college, and on two others are a quarterly coat of Stanley, Man, Lathom, and a checky coat which seems to refer to Joan Goushill wife of Sir Thomas Stanley, ob. 1458. An eagle's claw on one of the misericordes is a Stanley badge, and the legend of the eagle and child is on one of the bench-ends which bears the Stanley arms. Another shield has a cheveron between seven nails and in chief the letters I B, for John Bexwicke, impaling the arms of the Mercers' Company.
The stalls have tall and rich canopies in two stages, and a coved cresting with hanging open tracery, the details being different on the two sides, and there are carved foliate bosses on the carved arms of the seats, and a very fine series of carved misericordes. Some of these have allusions to the Stanley family, but the majority belong to the type of secular and often humorous subjects common on these carvings. They are of very great merit in some instances, though, unfortunately, a good deal broken. The hare cooking the hunter and his dog, the pilgrim robbed by monkeys, the man who has broken his wife's cookingpot, two men playing backgammon, &c., are among the best of them.
The quire arcades, which have been already referred to as perhaps being Huntington's work, have panelled spandrels and a line of cresting over the arches. Slender shafts run up from the piers to clustered capitals at the springing of the clearstory windows, which are of five cinquefoiled lights with tracery. From the capitals, on which stand eagles bearing shields, spring the cusped braces of the low-pitched roof, with its rich traceried panels and carved bosses at the intersections of the heavy moulded timbers. Huntington's rebus occurs on the roof, and at the repairs carried out by Mr. Crowther evidence was found that some of the timbers were parts of a differently-arranged roof, re-used by Stanley, and probably belonging to Huntington's quire, which must have had a clearstory of much the same height as at present. It seems to have had in each bay a pair of two-light windows instead of the present arrangement. Two dates, 1638 and 1742, are cut on the roof, marking repairs done in those years.
At the west of the quire is the screen, a fine piece of woodwork which has been a good deal restored, the coved canopy and front of the loft having been added by Scott in 1872. On the loft stands the organ, given in that year, and replacing one made in 1684 by Father Smith, and renewed in 1742.
The Derby chapel, or Chapel of St. John the Baptist, is separated from the north aisle of the quire by an arcade of five bays with four-centred arches, and details which are much plainer than those of the main arcades of the quire. Its north elevation does not correspond to the arcade, being of six unequal bays, each set in a wall arcade of excellent detail, perhaps Huntington's work reused. The first, third, fourth, and fifth bays contain four-light windows flanked on the inside by blank tracery and canopied niches, filling up the remaining spaces within the wall arcades, whose arches also form the heads of the windows. On the outside the blank tracery does not occur, and the windows in consequence have segmental heads. At the west the chapel opens by a wide arch and a flight of four steps to the north chapel of the nave, the site of the former chapel of St. James. The chapel is closed in by contemporary wooden screens, the entrance being from the south-west, where, over the door, are the arms of Sir John Stanley, son of Warden Stanley, impaling the quartered coat of Handforth, with a modern inscription on brass giving the date of its completion as 1513. The Ely chapel, opening from the north-east of the Derby chapel, is entered through a screen of early 16th-century date, moved here from St. James's chapel, and was completed after Warden Stanley's death by Sir John Stanley, being intended to contain his tomb. The tomb now in the chapel is a copy made in 1859 of the original altartomb, and on it is fixed the mutilated brass figure of Stanley in his episcopal dress as Bishop of Ely. The design of the chapel harmonizes with the Derby chapel, but being wider from east to west than the other bays, it has a north window of five lights instead of four. The eastern bay of the south aisle of the quire opens southward to the chapel, built in 1890 in memory of Bishop Fraser and containing his tomb; while the second bay, with its four-light south window, resembles the north side of the Derby chapel, and probably preserves the old design of Huntington's aisle, though the masonry is for the most part renewed. The third bay contains the entrance to the chapterhouse, probably the work of Stanley, and consisting of two deeply-recessed four-centred doorways set in a wide panelled recess. The chapter-house itself is octagonal, with a modern wooden vault, and is lighted by four-light windows in its four outer faces; its present design is probably due to Stanley, though Huntington seems to have built a chapter-house here, which, according to some evidence quoted in Mr. Worthington's book on the cathedral, was octagonal as at present. The foundations, however, of part of a square building are said to have been found here, and are claimed as Huntington's chapterhouse, and it can only be said that, no further investigation being at present possible, the question must be left as a contested point. The remainder of the aisle is taken up by a library, vestry, and passage, occupying the area of the old Jesus chapel. Its use as a library dates from the end of the 16th century, when its then owners, the Pendletons, sold it to the city of Manchester. The small Hulme chapel which opened southward from its east bay, after being rebuilt in 1810, has been pulled down, and no trace of it now exists. A door opens from the library to the chapterhouse, which is panelled in oak with seats round the walls, and a chair for the bishop on the south side. From the crown of the vault hangs a fine chandelier.
The nave arcades, the history of which has already been given, are of six bays, and faithfully reproduce Langley's work, which they succeed. In general design they closely resemble the arcades of the quire, having the same traceried spandrels and line of cresting over the arches; but the detail is simpler, though still very effective. The clearstory windows are of five lights, and before restoration were entirely without cusps; these have, however, been added in the new work. Externally their effect is richer than that of the clearstory of the eastern arm, as there is tracery in the spandrels over the windows and pairs of angels holding shields at the bases of the pinnacles which mark each bay, neither of which features occurs to the east of the chancel arch. The turrets flanking this arch break the long line of windows very satisfactorily, rising above the parapets and ending in crocketed spirelets, while internally they make a very effective feature, masking the junction between the nave and quire arcades, and by their size and solidity atoning for the rather insignificant chancel-arch. The nave clearstory seems to have had much the same history as that of the quire, and as built by Langley probably had two windows in each bay, an arrangement altered to that which now obtains at Stanley's rebuilding of the north arcade. This was deduced by Mr. Crowther from the evidence of re-used timbers found by him in the nave roof, which had been adapted to the wider span caused by the setting back of the north arcade.
There are practically no remains of old work in the aisles and chapels of the nave. St. James's chapel, at the east end of the outer north aisle, has entirely disappeared. It was built about 1507, before the present Derby chapel, and originally had a five-light east window, and the plinth of its east wall is said to remain beneath the present floor-level. It was afterwards called the Strangeways chapel, and Hollinworth (fn. 3) tells us that there was in it a picture of the Resurrection, and beneath it an inscription reciting a pardon of 26,026 days for all who there said five paters, five aves, and a credo. A piscina was found at the southeast angle of the chapel when it was taken down, and has been replaced near its old position. The chapel was narrower than the outer north aisle, but its north wall has now been carried out to the same line as the rest. The Trinity chapel, at the west end of the aisle, has also left no traces of its arrangements. The north porch, built in 1888 in memory of Mr. James Craven, is a very good piece of modern work, with a stone vault in two bays and an upper story used as a muniment room, and built entirely of stone; to the east of the porch is a registry office.
On the south side of the nave the south wall of the chapel of St. Nicholas, at the south-east, stands on its original line, but has been entirely renewed, and the south porch and south-west baptistery are modern additions. The old south porch stood opposite the fifth bay of the modern arcade. It was of a single story, built in 1685 by one Bibby, and afterwards rebuilt by the parish; it seems, however, to have retained some 13th-century detail, and the springers of a vault of that date. The present south porch follows in general design the north porch, being vaulted in two bays with a parvise over.
In St. George's chapel, west of St. Nicholas's chapel, hung an image of St. George, and in Hollinworth's time the chapel was called the Radcliffe chapel; the arcade on the south side, carrying on the line of the south wall of the chapel of St. Nicholas, is a modern insertion.
The west tower retains nothing of its old masonry except its east arch and the wall in which it is set, ornamented with shallow cinquefoiled stone panelling, which is hacked over to make a key for the cement coat put on it in 1815 and since removed. The old tower stood till 1863, and was of four stages, 124 ft. high, with a panelled parapet and groups of three pinnacles at each angle, and a smaller pinnacle in the middle of each face. The belfry windows were pairs of two-light openings with transoms and tracery, the wall over them being panelled in continuation of the tracery, with recesses for images on either side. The west doorway was two-centred with continuous mouldings, and over it was a fine five-light window with a transom and tracery, the buttresses on either side of the window having canopied niches at this level. The present tower is some 15 ft. higher than its predecessor, 139 ft. as against 124 ft., but is otherwise not unlike it, except in the presence of elaborate clock-faces below the belfry stage. Its outline is good, and forms a welcome contrast to its rather prosaic surroundings, the westward fall of the ground adding largely to its effect of height. In late years a large porch has been built on to its west face, coming up to the street frontage. The general exterior of the church at the present time is so much disfigured by its blackness that it is difficult to appreciate its good points. The same building set in a clean country town would command a great deal of admiration, but here it has to pay the penalty of its position in a great manufacturing city. With the interior, however, the case is different, and the dull light often adds immensely to the dignity of the nave, with its four ranges of columns and richly carved roofs. Some of the modern glass in the nave clearstory is of very fine colour, and the magnificent quire stalls and screen would be imposing in any church. The nave was formerly full of galleries, the oldest being on the south side, set up in 1617 by Humphrey Booth. The Strangeways gallery on the north, and the Chetham gallery on the west, were both made in 1660, and in 1698 another at the north-west was added. The last of the galleries was removed in 1884, to the great benefit of the general effect.
A little old glass in the east window of the chapterhouse is all that is left of what must once have been a very rich adornment. There are figures of our Lady, St. Paul, St. Peter, and St. George, and a few smaller pieces. Some glass from the cathedral is now in the chancel of Messingham Church, Lincs. A good deal was surviving in the 17th century, and Hollinworth mentions St. Michael and angels in the east window of the south aisle, and St. Augustine and St. Ambrose in the corresponding window on the north: presumably the quire aisle are meant. At the 'uppermost end of the outmost north ally,' near St. James's chapel, was a window with the Trinity and the Crucifixion. (fn. 4)
The church has lost most of the many monuments which it formerly possessed, such as the two alabaster effigies of Radcliffes mentioned by Hollinworth on the north side of the quire. Warden Huntington's brass, 1458, formerly in the middle of the quire, was afterwards put in a vault below, but in 1907 was replaced in the quire, and retains his figure in Mass vestments, with the very fitting inscription on a scroll, 'Domine dilexi decorem domus tuae.' Warden Stanley's brass has been already mentioned, and in the chapter-house is a triangular brass plate surrounded by shields of arms, commemorating the Ordsalls of Ordsall Hall. (fn. 5) An interesting but quite modern seated figure of Humphrey Chetham, founder of the hospital and library, set up in 1853, is at the east end of the north aisle of the quire, and in the south aisle is a copper plate in a carved oak frame to Warden Heyrick, 1667. On the back of the north range of quire stalls are fastened two brass plates to Antony Mosley, 1607, and Oswald Mosley, 1630, and there are a number of good 18th-century monuments in various parts of the church. There are recent monuments to Hugh Birley, M.P. for Manchester, Thomas Fleming, 1852, and Dean Maclure. Two early sculptured stones were found during the restorations, and there are brasses in the chapter-house and library. (fn. 6)
The present organ in its Gothic case set on the rood-loft succeeds one made by Father Smith about 1684. This, after having been sent to St. Saviour's Church, Chetham, was returned to the cathedral, and set up in the north aisle of the quire.
Three patens, 1676–7, each inscribed, 'This belongs to the Collegiate Church of Manchester, and was bought at ye parish charge, Anno Dom. 1676.' Almsdish, 1675–6, same inscription as patens, but date-letter a year earlier.
Four large flagons, 1707–8, 17 in. high, with mark of Nathaniel Lock, each inscribed, 'Deo et ecclesiae Mancuniensi Sacrum anno 1708. Johannes Sandiford D.D.D.' Two patens, same marks and inscriptions.
Four beaker cups made for the Scots church of the Scots Factors at Campvere, Holland, in 1620 (no marks), presented by Earl Egerton of Tatton. They are numbered 1, 2, 3, and 4, and bear Latin and English inscriptions, the latter reading:
There is a ring of ten bells, five being dated 1706. (fn. 7)
The registers begin in 1573. (fn. 8)