The Romans settled in Manchester around 78AD near the confluence of the Irwell and the Medlock, building a timber fort for around 500 men. Around 200 AD it was refaced with stone and abandoned at the end of the fourth century AD. Afterwards the Saxons used the same Medlock site. Edwin built a fortress there and land in the vicinity was allotted to one of the Barons who is said to have chosen a similar spot for his mansion on the confluence of the Irk and Irwell.
This site may have been where the Romans had a summer camp¹. Nearby a watermill was erected on a narrow trench between the two rivers, standing on the spot between the Smithy Door and Millgate. Access to the mill was over a hanging bridge, giving the street its current name. It was well defended by natural resources, standing high above the river. On the Salford side the low lying ground was marshy. A stream starting at Spring Gardens ran into the Irwell
After the Conquest, William I granted an immense territory to Roger of Pictou, who bestowed the Manor of Manchester on Nigellus a Norman knight. Albert De Grelley married Nigellus’ daughter in 1129 and became the Lord Of the Manor in Manchester. The Grelleys remained Lords of the Manor until around 1313 when Thomas De Gresley died without issue. In 1316 John De La Warre married Joan, Thomas’ sister and became Lord of Manchester.
The De La Warres remained Lords of the Manor for a century. In 1356 Thomas De La Warre fought with distinction at the battle of Poitiers, King John Of France surrendered personally to him.
After Thomas died in 1426 the Manor passed to Sir Reginald West who was the son of Thomas’ half sister, Joan by her husband the third Lord West.
The West family remained owners of the Manor until 1579 when they sold it to John Lacy a clothworker of London for £3,000. He in turn sold it to the Lord Mayor of London, Nicholas Mosley, a few years later.
In 1422 a license was granted for the foundation of a Collegiate Church and Thomas West laid the first stone on July 28 that year and the next year the Baron’s Hall was converted into a residence for the clergy which is the building we now know as Chetham’s Library and College.
The church lost its Collegiate status in 1547 when Sir George Colliar, the warden was deprived by Edward VI² for denying the Kings’s supremacy. Edward took the college house, and other lands into his possession and demised them to the Earl Of Derby. Edward died young, aged 16 in 1553 naming Lady Jane Grey, his first cousin once removed, as his heir, in an attempt to cement the Protestant faith in England. However, Edward’s half sister Mary deposed her after nine days reverting the country to the Catholic faith and reinstating Colliar and the Collegiate Church. The lands given to the Earl of Derby were given back, but the College buildings stayed in the possession of the Derby family until the confiscation of their estates under the Commonwealth.
It was not until Elizabeth I took power in 1558 that the Protestant faith took a firm hold in England. Elizabeth made William Birch MA the Warden of the Church and took the lands and revenues of the College under Crown control. The Archbishop of York was entrusted with the supervision of the wardens and fellows of the College.
The warden in 1597, Dr John Dee along with Sir Ralph Barber and Robert Talsley, the clerk of the Church made the first survey of the Parish of Manchester which took six days to accomplish. Unfortunately his map is lost to history.
During the time that the Derby family owned the college building it is thought that it was used as a temporary residence by some members of the family. Their main residence in Manchester, Aldport Park, was sold by the Stanley family to the Mosleys in 1599. Old houses on the Irk near the college had the Stanley arms on them, which suggests these were used by their retainers.
In the Civil Wars, the old college buildings fell into ruin. Some parts were used as a prison, others to store weapons and gunpowder. Other parts were private dwellings.
Humphrey Chetham thought that the College buildings were suitable for his charitable foundation and he started negotiations with the Parliamentary commissioners to acquire it. After his death his trustees obtained the buildings from Charlotte De Remouille, the widow of the Seventh Earl Of Derby and on 5 August 1656 the Hospital was dedicated in the Great Hall of the College. Richard Hollingworth made a speech saying:
that the house had formerly been the haule or manor house of the Grelles or Gresleys lords of Manchester and was then called Baron’s Court or Baron’s yerde and afterwards it was built colledge wise for the inhabitation of the warden and fellows of the Collegiate Church of Manchester and called the Colledge and about one hundred years agoe was alienated to the Earl of Derbie and was accounted the Earl of Derbie’s house in Manchester whence he took occasion to complain of the late sale of the lands of the appropriated rectory in Manchester which he affirmed was most unjust and illegal He shewed also that from henceforth the sayd house could fitly and justly be called by noe other name than by the name of Mr Chetham’s Hospitall
Little or nothing remains of the original Baron’s Hall. Of the College, the main building was built by Thomas De La Warre around 1423. It is possible that the kitchen was the original refectory and possibly the Great Hall was in use from 1425. The Civil War did cause great damage to the building, so there will have been extensive repairs after the conflict. The bedrooms used by the fellows of the church were converted into the present library.
Let’s see some pictures, like many buildings in Manchester, The Baron’s Hall was replaced by a modern structure (albeit in medieval times), so it is just Chethams you get. Before that, I will leave you with a note from Henry Taylor in 1884 which suggests that worries for heritage in Manchester are not new:
Rumours have been afloat from time to time that the valuable site is to be sold and this venerable relic of the past destroyed should such an event occur it will not redound to the credit of the citizens of Manchester to part so easily with such a prize.
¹ The History Of Manchester, The Reverend John Whittaker: Murray 1771, but this is conjecture and no remains have been found. Actually most of what we think about the building which preceded the current medieval structure is guesswork as we have little evidence about the Baron’s Hall, just that it existed. However the siting of the church (now the Cathedral) and the discovery of Saxon remains here do lend weight to the theory. There are parts of the surviving building which could be relics of the original structure, but it’s turtles all the way down.
² Son of Henry VIII and first Protestant King of England.
Old Halls in Lancashire & Cheshire, Henry Taylor: J E Cornish, 1884
The Gorton Historical Recorder, John Higson, 1852
The National Gazeteer : 1888, Virtue.
Saturday Review 12 January 1889
© Allan Russell 2022.