CHESTER: Introduction

Pages 33-34

Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1541-1857: Volume 11, Carlisle, Chester, Durham, Manchester, Ripon, and Sodor and Man Dioceses. Originally published by Institute of Historical Research, London, 2004.

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The sprawling diocese of Chester was formed on 4 August 1541 out of the archdeaconries of Richmond and Chester from the archdiocese of York and the diocese of Coventry and Lichfield respectively. It consisted of the counties of Cheshire and Lancashire, portions of Westmorland, Cumberland and Yorkshire, and a few parishes in Denbighshire and Flintshire. The process of foundation was simplified by the fact that William Knight had held both the archdeaconries since 1529, and in return for their surrender he received the bishopric of Bath and Wells. Originally established as being in the province of Canterbury, it was transferred to York in 1542 by Act of Parliament. The diocese retained the two archdeaconries. The former Benedictine abbey of St. Werburgh in Chester was reconstituted as the cathedral of Christ and St. Mary. It was the second monastic institution to be refounded as a secular chapter by Henry VIII, after Westminster Abbey in December 1540, and the only new diocese to be founded by the king in the province of York. The chapter was to consist of a dean and six canons, of whom the majority were former monks. The prebends were in the royal gift, until patronage of them was granted to the bishop of Chester by Queen Mary I in 1557. (fn. 1)

Chester was not a wealthy see. The average revenue of the bishop for the three years to 1831 was a modest £3,261, not counting the £813 from a prebend of Durham which Bishop John Bird Sumner held in addition to the bishopric of Chester. The bishop's basic income thus fell well below the episcopal average of £5,936, and placed him sixteenth in the table of bishops. The see seems to have been regarded as a stepping-stone to more lucrative bishoprics. From 1750 to 1848 every bishop of Chester was translated elsewhere. The cathedral corporation's income of £634 placed it twenty-fourth among cathedrals. The dean's basic income 1828–31 was £120, plus one-eighth part of any fines, apart from any income from other benefices, while canons received £26 13s 4d. (fn. 2)

The diocese was considerably reduced in size by the work of the ecclesiastical commissioners in the eighteen-thirties, enshrined in the statute of 6 & 7 Will. IV c. 77. Chester lost its remaining parts of Cumberland and Westmorland to the diocese of Carlisle. By Order in Council of 5 October 1836 the Yorkshire deaneries of the archdeaconry of Richmond were separated from Chester diocese to form a new diocese, that of Ripon. The office of archdeacon of Richmond was also transferred to the new diocese. A similar Order of 7 September 1838 separated the Lancashire portion of the archdeaconry of Richmond (except the deaneries of Furness and Cartmel) and constituted it as the archdeaconry of Manchester in the new diocese of Manchester, to be set up after the Welsh dioceses of St. Asaph and Bangor had been combined. An Order in Council of 21 August 1837 aimed to bring the bishop's annual income up to £4,500. In 1843, although the union of the Welsh dioceses had not come about, and there was as yet no diocese or bishop of Manchester, it was considered expedient to set up the archdeaconry of Manchester immediately, in the diocese of Chester on a temporary basis. In 1847 the Act of 10 & 11 Vic. c. 108, made effective by an Order in Council of 10 August 1847, set up the diocese of Manchester forthwith, and also established a new archdeaconry in Chester diocese: consisting of the deanery of Wirral in Cheshire and the deanery of Warrington in Lancashire, it was to be called the archdeaconry of Liverpool. Chester diocese now consisted of the county of Cheshire, the deanery of Warrington, Lancs., and part of Flintshire and Shropshire. The statute of 3 & 4 Vic. c. 113 reduced the number of canons from six to four, by suspending the first and third prebends to fall vacant after the passing of the Act. (fn. 3)

John Le Neve's work as regards Chester was similar to his work on Carlisle: he apparently used some archbishops' registers, monumental inscriptions and wills, together with standard printed reference works, though many of his statements were unsubstantiated. He gave lists only for the bishops and deans. Hardy gave lists for the archdeacons and canons, although with not a single source cited.

This edition is, as always, based on a thorough examination of all extant primary sources. There are gaps in the diocesan and capitular registers and act books, partly though by no means fully offset by the series of diocesan administrative papers and chapter financial records. In addition the chapter act books do not regularly record the installation of prebendaries until the mid eighteenth century. Although the six prebends are numbered, they are hardly ever so described in the records. In these lists, the canons are given in order of appointment, with predecessors and successors (or the number of the prebend) if this information is in the sources cited.


  • 1. L. & P. XVI no. 1135 (4); stat. 33 Hen. VIII c. 31; C.P.R. 1557–8 p. 260; P. Heath, 'The medieval archdeaconry and the Tudor bishopric of Chester', Jour. Eccles. Hist. xx (1969) 243–52. There is a map of the diocese in J. Gairdner, English Church in the 16th Century (London, 1912).
  • 2. Rept. of the Commissioners …to inquire into the Ecclesiastical Revenues pp. 4–5, 12–13.
  • 3. Lond. Gaz. nos. 19426–7, 19429, 5 Oct. 1836; 19538, 21 Aug. 1837; 19666, 19670, 16976, 7 Sept. 1838; 19698, 12 Dec. 1838; 20769 (p. 3159), 10 Aug. 1847.