This is a follow up post of one I wrote last year regarding some of Manchester’s forgotten burial grounds.
At the dawn on the industrial revolution, the population of Manchester was booming, rising drastically from the end of the eighteenth century. In 1853 Manchester achieved city status and was forever changed from the market town it has been a century earlier. The figures below testify the rapid increase of population:
1773 = 22,481
1801 = 88,577
1841 = 258,929
1901 = 642,027
Before the consolidation of the Burial Act in 1857, which opened municipal cemeteries, church grave yards were the main burial grounds. However, as the population continued to rise generation after generation and space in the city centre was at a premium, the land was reclaimed by the living. Here are three examples of long lost burial grounds in Manchester city centre today.
St. John’s Church (St. John’s Gardens, Byrom Street)
As the population of Manchester began to steadily rise in the 18th century there was a demand for more places of worship. As a result St. John’s Church was built in 1769 by Edward Byrom (co-founder of the Bank of Manchester and member of the wealthy Byrom family). It was built in the Gothick revival style (note the ‘k’ on the end of the word Gothick, this separates the 18th century style of architecture from the later Gothic revival of the mid-19th century).
The church was popular with the wealthier residents of Manchester and it was situated in a fashionable part of town, located just off St. John Street. Among those buried here at Dr. Peter Mainwaring of King Street, Joseph Owens (founder of Owen College, later to become the University of Manchester) and William Marsden (social campaigner who introduced half days on Saturdays). There are also some 22,000 other individuals buried in the graveyard. When burials in city centre graveyards were prohibited in 1856, they were allowed to carry on at St. John’s in the vaults. As the photograph above shows, the area around the church was literally paved with headstones.
However, towards the end of the 19th century and early 20th century, the area changed from a genteel, domestic middle class area to a working class industrial area and the church fell into decline. In 1931 the church was demolished and the grounds were landscaped to formed St. John’s Gardens, an oasis of greenery in the city centre. A memorial cross was erected to show this was the site of the former church. Although the headstones were removed, the majority of graves were not and the park rests upon the graves of thousands and thousands of Manchester’s early inhabitants.
Christ Church Chapel, Salford (King Street Car Park)
Although located in Salford, this former burial ground it only a five minute walk from Manchester city centre and lies just over the boundary between the two cities. Christ Church was founded in 1800 by William Cowherd and the building was completed by 1809. Cowherd built the chapel at his own expense and less than five years after it was completed the roof caved in and therefore it was subsequently re-erected. There was also a large school on the site, capable of taking a hundred boarders. The church was followed the doctorine of the ‘Swedenborgians’ also known as the New Jerusalem Church or the Bible Christian Chapel. Apparently vegetarianism and abstinence from alcohol were preached as part of the official doctorine but Cowherd was indifferent on the subject of meat-eating and the Chapel was nicknamed ‘the Beefsteak Chapel’.
Around the Chapel was a large graveyard, in which William Cowherd was buried himself in 1816. The Chapel also allowed free burial for poor people, although the registers are missing for 1837-1854 it is estimated there are hundreds of graves located there. The Chapel was closed in 1868 and some graves were removed in 1869. After this the site was used as a timber yard and today it is a car park.
Unitarian Chapel (Cross Street)
In 1662 the Act of Uniformity imposed by the British Government imposed State control on religion in Britain, meaning the population had to follow the disciplines of the Church of England. This did not prove popular with everyone and some two thousand ministers were expelled, they became known as the ‘dissenters’ and ‘nonconformists’. Unitarians, a branch of the dissenters, believe in the oneness of God and the unity of humans and creation, hence the origins of the name. During the 19th century many famous residents of Manchester were associated with the Cross Street Chapel, for example John Lees (later Carill-Worsley) of Platt Hall, William and Elizabeth Gaskell and for a brief period Samuel and Hannah Greg. The chapel later became famous for its liberalism.
The first Unitarian Chapel; a ‘dissenters meeting house’ was built on Cross Street in 1694. It was destroyed during the Jacobean rebellion in 1715 and subsequently rebuilt. This chapel was later destroyed during bombing raid in the Manchester Blitz of 1940. In the post-war period it was replaced by a new chapel in 1959, which itself was repaced in 1997 by the present building. Although the the first two floors of the building are now offices the rest of the building is the Chapel and it occupies the same site as its predecessors.
As the 1850s map above shows, the Cross Street Chapel had a yard around it which was used for burials, which started in the late 17th century and were stopped in 1840. The Grave Yard actually surrounded the Chapel at the front on Cross Street, to the side on Chapel Walk and to the rear on Cheapside. In 1897 some graves and headstones were removed so that the pavements could be extended around the Chapel.
In 2015 Cross Street was dug up so new tramlines could be laid to extend the Metrolink service in Manchester. Workers were surprised to discover some 270 graves in front of the Unitarian Chapel, which have lain under Cross Street, undisturbed for centuries. The remains have been transferred to York, so the bones can be examined to understand more about life in 18th/19th century Manchester. They will then be interred in Southern Cemetery. There is a link in the sources below which is an article from the Manchester Evening News. It lists the names and ages of the deceased found and their date of burial.
- http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/metrolink-cross-street-270-bodies-9670347 – Names and Dates of those found
- https://ifthosewallscouldtalk.wordpress.com/2015/12/02/hidden-histories-35-king-street-manchester-forgotten-georgian-heritage-part-two/ – Further reading – Home of Dr Peter Mainwaring, who is buried at St. John’s Church.
- https://ifthosewallscouldtalk.wordpress.com/2016/02/08/hidden-histories-84-plymouth-grove-elizabeth-gaskells-house-manchester/ – Further reading – Information about William and Elizabeth Gaskell