Manchester has existed as a settlement for well over a millennium, since the Romans established a fort there around 79AD. The market town began to be transformed into an industrial powerhouse from the late 18th century, with the arrival of the Bridgewater Canal and the rise of the cotton industry. The population of Manchester in 1773 was over 22,400; by 1811 it had risen to 89,000 and by 1851 it was over 303,300!
These people lived, worked and died in Manchester. But where was they buried? During the 19th Century there was numerous churches, chapels and grave yards, today I’m going to write about three forgotten burial sites in modern-day Manchester, where you might not realise the dead are literally beneath your feet!
St. Ann’s Church (St. Ann’s Square)
St. Ann’s Church is one of the city’s oldest religious buildings, it was built in 1712 and it still worshipped in today. It stands in the heart of the city centre, in front of it is St. Ann’s Square and behind it is King Street.
The Church had its own graveyard surrounding the rear of the building, it was used for burials from 1712-1854, when they were stopped at there was no room left in the graveyard as the city has expanded so much during this time. The graveyard was partially cleared in 1842 and the majority of the gravestones were removed in 1892, although a few are still visible (as you can see in the photo above left).
The former church yard was paved over and landscaped and today is part of the St. Ann’s Square development (see above right). I wonder how many people enjoying the outside area know they are eating and drinking over the graves of some of Manchester’s earliest inhabitants!
St. Peter’s Church (St. Peter’s Square)
Today St. Peter’s Square is home to the metrolink tram stop, outside the Central Library, Midland Hotel and the Town Hall extension. As you can see from the photo above the area is currently a building site as the platforms are being extended. However from 1788 to 1906, St. Peter’s Church stood here and in 1819 the area was part of the St. Peter’s Field (Peterloo) Massacre. The Church was demolished in 1907.
The Church never had a graveyard, instead burials were held in vaults underneath the Church, registers exist from 1796 – 1866. The fact these were vaults suggests that those buried there may have been Manchester’s wealthier residents. There are at least 218 graves there, if not more. The vaults are still there today and were recently re-discovered by the workmen extending the metrolink (they also uncovered 200 graves outside the Cross Street Unitarian Chapel too). The vaults will be re-sealed and there are plans to re-erect the memorial cross that once stood there marking the site of the Church.
All Saints Church (Grosvenor Square, Oxford Road)
All Saints Church was founded in 1820 and only demolished in 1949 after it was damaged by bombing during World War Two. The grounds surrounding the Church was the graveyard and even as early as 1848, they were overcrowded with burials and an “offensive effluvia” was being emitted. The last burial took place in 1881.
In 1934 the Manchester Corporation came into ownership of the site and they laid the gravestones flat and buried them under three feet of dirt. During the post-war years, part of the former graveyard was even used as a children’s playground!
Today the site is owned and maintained by Manchester Metropolitan University, and there is a plaque erected to let people know that the site is still consecrated. As a recent graduate, I can say the area is extremely popular with students, especially in summer. I wonder how many realise that they’re eating picnics or sunbathing on top of the remains of around 16,000 people (of which 2562 names can be found online)!
– Alan Kidd Manchester A History , 4th edition (Lancaster: Carnegie Publishing Ltd, 2011)
– Burial Records http://www.lan-opc.org.uk/Manchester/index.html