Deep beneath the streets around Manchester Cathedral the tiny River Irk flows towards the River Irwell.
Some of the nearby buildings date only from the rebuilding after the 1996 IRA bomb attack. Others were part of the post-war redevelopment that followed the Blitz. Very little of the central Manchester streetscape dates back before the Victorians.
The Cathedral, itself heavily restored after the Blitz, is largely a Victorian building, enlarged after the diocese was established in 1847 and repeatedly embellished between the 1860s and 1933-34.
As the parish church it had been refounded in 1421 by Thomas de la Warre, Lord of the Manor, as the Collegiate Church of St Mary, St Denys and St George, a thank-offering for the victory at Agincourt in 1415.
Its predecessor dates back to 1215 and stood next to a fortified manor house that probably occupied the site of the present-day Chetham’s School of Music.
These archaeological layers of history are vividly apparent if you eat and drink at the Manchester Cathedral Visitor Centre, where the arches of the Hanging Ditch Bridge over the River Irk have been uncovered (though current building work makes them temporarily inaccessible): http://www.manchestercathedralvisitorcentre.org/the-hanging-ditch-bridge.
Though the Roman Castlefield is more apparent as a modern tourist attraction, this is the heart of modern Manchester, dating back to the time in the late tenth century, when the more prosperous settlement was on the opposite bank of the Irwell and Manchester was a subsidiary manor within the hundred of Salford.
For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Manchester’s Heritage, please click here.
The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 tour Manchester’s Heritage, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing. To view sample pages click here. Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.