It’s not easy to walk around Manchester and picture the place as it might have looked in 1745 – but it’s not impossible either. And I’ve done this Manchester Jacobites walk now in a couple of different ways. The simple way is to stand in three different locations – the Victoria pedestrian bridge, the side of Marks & Spencer on the corner of Exchange Street, and in St Ann’s Square – or to use those three points as the start of short, circular and interlinked walks.
The current Victoria Bridge (1839), and its new pedestrian neighbour, sit roughly on the site of the old Salford Bridge (which Bonnie Prince Charlie and his Scots army crossed on 29th November 1745), a medieval structure with, on the Salford side, an old chapel that served as a dank dungeon. The town had actually been captured on the previous day (28th November), famously without a fight, by a certain Sergeant Dickson, his companion – Long Preston Peggy – and a drummer.
From the bridge, you can look along the River Irwell which, in 1745, would have had sandstone rocky banks topped with trees, and some quite fine houses just
beyond. The Irwell was navigable in 1745 from the Mersey and, some way along to the right, there were wharves and warehouses. To the left, a prison, the House of Correction, plainly visible on the river’s Manchester bank. Beyond, where the railway bridge now stands, the town’s other major river, the Irk, flowed into the Irwell.
But the view from the bridge is dominated, as it was in 1745, by the Collegiate Church of St Mary, St Denys and St George, now Manchester’s Cathedral. The present structure dates from the 13th Century and was substantially re-built in the 1800s. In 1745, the congregation was dominated by High Church Tories and Jacobite sympathisers, and its chaplains enthusiastically greeted Bonnie Prince Charlie when he arrived in the town. The Whig Loyalists, on the other hand, worshipped at St Ann’s – but more about that later.
If we move off the bridge to start the first of the three circular walks, it’s easy to find the remains of the Hanging Bridge, just across the road. Back in the Middle Ages, this bridge crossed a stream, known as the Hanging Ditch, but by 1745, this had been filled with rubbish and rubble, and houses built on top. The bridge was only re-discovered during Victorian
From the Hanging Bridge, we go past the front of the Cathedral and then, with the river on our left, remember that we’d now be walking in front of the House of Correction. We turn right into Hunts Bank, bearing in mind that this is roughly where the Irk would have met the Irwell and flowed along Walker Croft, down to our right and below Chetham’s. We follow Hunts Bank around past the front of Victoria Station, then turn right onto Long Millgate to reach the front entrance of Chetham’s Library. The current Chetham’s School of Music is built on the site of an old fortified Norman mansion house and, possibly, the site of much earlier Saxon and/or Celtic fortresses. There was a religious college here in the 15th Century and, in the 1650s, philanthropist Humphrey Chetham bequeathed enough money in his will for the construction of a hospital, library and charity school. By 1745 it had become a charitable “blue coat” school for around 40 boys. The adjoining library amassed an enormous collection, over 100,000 books, most of them printed before 1851, and the interior is exquisite.
If we leave Chetham’s and keep the National Footbal Museum on our left, we can walk up to Corporation Street (which didn’t exist in 1745). On our right is the collection of buildings called The Triangle and, somewhere in the centre of that block, the old street called Hanging Ditch would have run up from where we saw the remains of the Hanging Bridge, and here there were some fine houses, including the one in which John Byrom and his family now lived. On Corporation Street we head along to the corner of Marks & Spencer.
Marks & Spencer
If we’ve come straight from the bridge, we need to walk up St Mary’s Gate and stop near the small roundabout at the end of Exchange Street. Alternatively, we may have completed the first circular walk and, coming along Corporation Street, turned down the side of Marks & Spencer to the same mini-roundabout. Either way, we have to try and picture that, roughly where the Zara store now stands, in 1745, there was an impressive Exchange – a two-storey stone building where market activities took place between the colonnaded ground floor columns while, in the halls above, business and trading activities took place, as well as concerts and meetings of the Court Leet (Town Council).
The pedestrianised bit of Exchange Street that runs between Zara and Marks & Spencer follows the old Market Place. The town cross once stood here,
as well as a water conduit for drawing fresh water, and about 100 yards along on the left, is the original location of the Old Wellington Inn. This is the building in which famous writer John Byrom had been born although, by 1745, it housed a draper’s shop and rented rooms, and had been extended to include John Shaw’s Punch House – later Sinclair’s Oyster Bar. In The Jacobites’ Apprentice, one of my main characters, Aran Owen, lives in a room on the third floor. Byrom was a Jacobite supporter, and so too was his daughter, Beppy, who kept a detailed diary of those heady days. But, by 1745, they were living in their much grander house on Hanging Ditch.
Meanwhile, the house in which Byrom had been born stood at the corner of the old Shambles Square, a cluster of buildings in the centre but the butchers’ stalls – giving the Shambles its name – around the outside. In 1745, there were two further inns here – the Bull’s Head, where the Tories and Jacobite supporters supped while, across the way, the Whigs and Hanoverian Loyalists gathered at the Angel. The Bull’s Head also served as the town’s post office and, on 29th and 30th November 1745, it became the recruiting centre at which 300 Manchester men, under the command of Francis Townley, enlisted to form their own regiment within Bonnie Prince Charlie’s army. But when he was forced to retreat back to Scotland, just a few weeks later, the Manchester Regiment was left behind at Carlisle, as a rearguard. There they were captured, imprisoned and their leaders later executed in London.
The whole area around Shambles Square was rebuilt after it was devastated by an IRA bomb in 1996, with the Old Wellington carefully moved to its current location.
The second short additional walk takes us back up past Marks & Spencer and across into Market Street.
Walking up Market Street, it’s worth trying to imagine this as the much narrower, and somewhat sinuous thoroughfare, known as Market Street Lane in
1745. But some fine town houses were being built here too and, just past the entrance to the Arndale Centre, stood the house of prominent merchant John Dickenson, where Bonnie Prince Charlie stayed on his nights in Manchester. It later became the Palace Inn. Immediately opposite was the equally grand mansion of another merchant, James Marsden, where the Duke of Athole was billeted. A short way further up on the left, some steps led to the lane where the town’s cockpit was located.
Then we head down to Exchange Street again.
St Ann’s Square
Back at Exchange Street, but before going on, it’s worth remembering that, in 1745, the entrance to St Ann’s Square was then through an alley here, beneath one of Manchester’s early coffee houses.
By 1702, when Queen Anne had come to the throne, there was already strong Jacobite sentiment in the town – those who wanted to see the pro-Catholic and exiled Stuart dynasty back in power. And the Collegiate Church had become a hot-bed for Jacobite sermons. As a result, local notable, Lady Ann Bland, determined to have a new, rival and loyalist church built on the open ground then known as Acresfield – the site of Manchester’s Annual Fair. The church was named St Ann’s and Acresfield eventually became St Ann’s Square. This is one of the sites most easy to imagine in its 1745 appearance though, at the time, it could only be accessed by narrow and dingy alleys at its corners.
It’s said that those Manchester folk who wanted to “hedge their bets” between the town’s factions chose to worship at St Ann’s in the morning and at the Collegiate Church in the evening.
All the same, the second rector of St Ann’s, the Reverend Joseph Hoole, had only died shortly before the Jacobites’ arrival in the town. He was known as a fanatical opponent of the Jacobites and his widow apparently feared that they might disrupt his funeral. As it transpired, the funeral was in progress, in the small burial ground then at the eastern end of the church, when Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Highlanders came pouring into the square. But, contrary to the Widow Hoole’s fears, the Scots officers stood in silent prayer around the cemetery.
Another very short walk takes us down to the church itself (there was a spire on top of the tower in 1745), which is still pretty much in its original condition. But around the outside are some of the grave stones from the burial ground. One of the most prominent, at the north-east corner, is the raised ‘chest tomb’ of Thomas Deacon, the Anglican and pro-Jacobite Bishop of Manchester. The inscription describes him as “the greatest of sinners” but Deacon apparently wrote this himself before he died, and still full of remorse, for each of his three sons had joined Bonnie Prince Charlie’s regiments – and paid the price for it after Carlisle, one executed, one died of fever, and one transported. A plaque on the wall here also tells the story of Joseph Hoole’s funeral.
Well, that concludes the route, though it’s worth remembering that the Jacobite army returned to Manchester on 9th December 1745, only just over a week after their first visit, though now in retreat towards Scotland. But their reception was very different from that which they’d enjoyed on their way south. No longer the conquering heroes, their fickle supporters kept to their houses, while their opponents, made bold by the changed circumstances, turned out to jeer them and even risk the occasional potshot.
If you’ve got a group interested in joining me on the walk any time, just let me know!