Alan Crosby: Manchester Cathedral's many marriages

By Jon Bauckham, 11 June 2015 - 3:49pm

Alan Crosby was reminded of an amusing family history discovery following a recent conversation with Manchester Cathedral's archivist

Dr Alan Crosby is the editor of the Local Historian and a columnist for WDYTYA? MagazineThursday 11 June 2015
Alan Crosby
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Your ancestors certainly didn't have to be rich or important to tie the knot at Manchester Cathedral, says Alan Crosby (Photo: WikiCommons)

Yesterday I was talking to the archivist of Manchester Cathedral about plans for a project that I may be involved with.

It’s a lovely building dating from the second half of the 15th century, which miraculously survived the transformation of Manchester from a country market town to a world city. It wasn’t too badly restored by the Victorians, was seriously damaged by a landmine explosion in 1940 (but carefully reconstructed), was not spared by the brutal planners of the ‘60s and ‘70s and now flourishes.

Between 1753 and 1837, when Manchester was already a great metropolis, this was the only place in the whole city where it was legal to marry, and as the main church in a densely populated area it had massive numbers of baptisms and burials. The churchyard was notoriously overcrowded with putrefying corpses, hastily moved before being fully decomposed in order to make way for yet more burials.

I remember how, when I first did family history many years ago, I discovered quite quickly that my very young Irish-born great great grandmother was married there, and I was very impressed.

Then I found out about the mass weddings which were conducted every day at what was then called the collegiate church. A dozen or more couples would line up at the altar with the minister hurriedly gabbling the marriage service over them, before then hastily signing the register (or being illiterate working class couples, putting a cross) and being ushered away. Superior visitors came to watch the spectacle.

I imagine my great great grandparents being observed with supercilious amusement as he, an illiterate lamplighter from Salford, and she, Dublin-born and 15 years old (and probably pregnant) went through the undignified proceedings. Nothing grand about any of that – but a fine setting nonetheless.

Were any of your ancestors married in Manchester Cathedral? If so, let us know in the comments below!
 

Alan Crosby lives in Lancashire and is editor of The Local Historian. He is an honorary research fellow at Lancashire and Liverpool universities

 

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