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Old English Towns  —  £ 4.99

Go to the eBook Shop These guide books are essential reading if you plan to visit any of these towns or wish to understand the role each played in the story of England over the last 2,000 years.

Descriptions of 43 of England's oldest and most famous towns (excluding London) at the beginning of the 20th century. Their history, notable features, stories and famous inhabitants, together with the most interesting buildings and parts to visit - then or now. The first volume was published in 1909 and proved so popular that a second followed in 1912.

This eBook version contains the entire text and all the illustrations from both books. Please see the extract below for a list of all the towns featured and one of the shorter chapters, about Manchester.

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The 31 illustrations are a mixture of 18th & 19th century engravings
and some contemporary (with the books) photographs & sketches.


The text and any images below are identical to the eBook; however, depending on the typeface, etc., that you select, they may not display here exactly as they do on your eReader. Also, pages turn as normal, rather than the scrolling effect seen here.


Old English Towns

Bury St. Edmunds
St. Albans


     THE cotton and other industries connect Manchester with the trade of the world. It is a place of considerable antiquity, but is more famous for its commerce than its history. Towering warehouses are seen on every hand, and the ruins of ancient strongholds and old religious houses which we usually associate with an old-time city are missing. The place seems wholly to be given up to business, but it is by no means lacking in culture. Here trade and learning go hand in hand. Few, if any, towns display greater public spirit. It has often inspired the policy of the country. Frequently what Manchester thinks to-day England will adopt to-morrow.
     Little is known for certain of the early history of this city. It is supposed that the ancient Britons had a fortress here, which passed into the possession of the Romans under Agricola. One fact is certain, that it was the site of an important Roman station. Many traces of their occupation have been unearthed at various periods - not only coins, but examples of walls, etc.
     The story of the town for some time after the departure of the Romans is of a legendary character, picturesque, but not reliable enough for the serious student of history. Down to the seventeenth century the tale was told that Tarquin, the enemy of King Arthur, kept the castle of Manchester and met his death at the hands of Launcelot of the Lake. Most likely the place was the scene of missionary labours of Paulinus. Saxon kings and queens are associated with its history, but their lives do not materially add to the importance of the town or district. It was not a growing district, for when the Domesday Survey was made, Manchester, Salford, Rochdale, and Radcliffe were the only places mentioned in South-east Lancashire. The sites to-day of many important towns, the hives of modern industry and progress, were put down as forests and waste land.
     Manchester's neighbour, Salford, was granted a charter by Ranulph de Blundevill in the reign of Henry III., which constituted it a free borough. Towards the close of the reign of Edward I., in 1301, a similar charter was granted to Manchester by its baron, Thomas Gresley. The barons exercised great power over the town. It was not until 1845 that the Town Council bought the manorial rights of Manchester from Sir Oswald Mosley for £200,000. The town was granted a municipal charter in 1838, and raised to the dignity of a city in 1847.
     The Court Leet, which regulated the life of the town in the olden days, passed many curious orders. Take, for example, the following relating to bread. At a meeting held October 1st, 1561, it was resolved that no person or persons be permitted to make for sale any kind of bread in which butter is mixed, under a fine of ten shillings. Later, the use of suet was forbidden. In 1595 we are told that the Court Leet jury ordered that no person was to be allowed to use butter or suet in cakes or bread, and that offenders were to be fined twenty shillings. If a person sold the cakes, etc., he ran the risk of being fined twenty shillings. We learn from another order, passed on September 30th, 1596, that the inhabitants were not permitted to eat flesh meat on a Friday or Saturday. In the sixteenth century a single woman was not allowed to keep house or chamber. Even wedding dinners were not to cost more than sixpence a head.
     Leland, the antiquary, visited Manchester in 1638, and he describes it as being well built, recognises its trading importance, and speaks of it as being the most populous town in Lancashire. Manchester was made a sanctuary town a place where transgressors might remain in safety under certain conditions. Henry VIII. was petitioned to take away the rights "because the sanctuary men are prejudicial to the wealth, credit, great occupyings, and good order of the said town, by occasioning idleness, unlawful games, unithriftness and other enormities." The King granted the request.
     When the Civil War raged in this country the inhabitants were active in the strife. The place was garrisoned in 1642 by the Parliamentary forces, and withstood a siege of the King's soldiers. At the Rebellion of 1715 the leading clergymen threw in their lot with the Pretender. The inhabitants in the main supported Prince Charles Edward. He proudly entered the town at the head of his army on November 29th, 1745, and took up his residence in Market Street Lane, until recently called the Palace. He was proclaimed in the town as James III. Many Lancashire people joined his forces, Colonel Francis Townley and Captain James Dawson among the number. These were known as the Manchester regiment. When it was realised that the Stuarts' cause was doomed to failure, the regiment surrendered to the Duke of Cumberland, and the colonel and eight other officers were tried in London, found guilty, and beheaded on Kennington Common. The ruthless conduct of the duke gave rise to a couple of local ballads which are still remembered, called "Jemmy Dawson" and "Townley's Ghost." The former was written by Shenstone, and tells how Dawson's execution was witnessed by his intended bride, and how she died on the spot, broken-hearted.

The dismal scene was o'er and past,
    The lover's mournful hearse retired;
The maid drew back her languid head,
    And, sighing forth his name, expired.

     Byrom, a Manchester Jacobite and a scholar and poet of more than local repute as the author of "Christians, Awake!" expressed himself in an epigram as follows:

God bless the King! I mean the faith's defender;
God bless - no harm in blessing - the Pretender!
But who Pretender is - or who is King,
God bless us all that's quite another thing.

     During our troubles with America and France, Manchester supplied men and money on behalf of king and country. In August, 1819, a large gathering of peaceful men met to discuss political reforms, and by a mistaken policy on the part of the local authorities the meeting was broken up and several people killed. It is known as the "Peterloo Massacre."
     The Manchester Ship Canal, connecting the city with the sea, and making it an inland port, is a wonderful engineering feat, and was officially opened by Queen Victoria on May 21st, 1894.

     The religious life of the city has kept pace with its commercial prosperity. The cathedral, the chief ecclesiastical building, is disappoint! ig, and is unworthy of a wealthy diocese. It was formerly the old parish church, and for that purpose met its requirements, but is not of sufficient dignity for a cathedral. The style is Perpendicular Gothic, mainly dating back to the fifteenth century. It contains some fine monuments; and is by no means devoid of interesting features, which well repay a careful study. The See was founded in 1847. There are many other churches and Nonconformist places of worship, whose pulpits have been filled by some of the greatest preachers of the age.
     The Town Hall is said to be the finest municipal building in Europe, was designed by Waterhouse, and covers 8,000 square yards. It was erected at a cost, including interest, of £1,062,565; on the organ was spent £5,269, and the bells and clock cost £6,985. If contains 314 rooms, and round the great hall are twelve mural paintings by Ford Madox Brown. From its tower, which is 260 feet high, may be obtained extensive views of South Lancashire, the charming plains of Cheshire, and the bold hills of Derbyshire. The style of architecture is Gothic. It was opened in 1877. There are numerous other public buildings displaying great taste, and the same may be said of the great warehouses which rise in every direction.

     The scholastic establishments, libraries, and parks are the chief glory of Manchester. Foremost is the University, with its colleges, and the Grammar School, founded in 1519 by Hugh Oldham, Bishop of Exeter, and a native of Lancashire. Some celebrated men have been educated there. The most notable scholar is perhaps Thomas De Quincey, a native of Greenheys, Manchester. In later times Harrison Ainsworth, the Lancashire novelist, attended the school. The Free Library was opened in 1852, and owes its origin to Sir John Potter. Not only has it one of the finest reference libraries in the provinces, but it has branches in the various parts of the city. The Chetham library is frequently named as the oldest library in Europe. For more than two centuries the student has entered its doors without let or hindrance. It is rich in Lancashire and Cheshire books and manuscripts. It is a strange experience to leave the busy streets, and retire into the quiet library, which seems to belong more to monastic times in England than to this work-a-day world. It is really the only remains of olden Manchester. Formerly the ancient barons's hall, it was bought by the trustees of Humphrey Chetham, and devoted to a blue coat school and library. The John Rylands library was founded by his widow in memory of her husband, a local worthy. It is a library for students, and contains one of the best collections of books in the country, brought together regardless of cost, and the library is housed in a noble building. There are other excellent libraries in the city to meet the requirements of all classes of readers.
     The large and numerous parks, museums, and picture galleries afford endless pleasure and instruction to the residents and visitors. There are many statues, too, of local and national worthies.
     The city is rich in philanthropic institutions. The Manchester man is more noted for sound common sense than show; as a rule he is a man of culture, with a strong bent for business. The streets are well kept, and in some instances wide. "What art was in the ancient world," says D' Israeli, "science is in the modern the distinctive faculty. In the minds of men the useful has succeeded the beautiful. Instead of the city of the violet crown, a Lancashire village has expanded into a mighty region of factories and warehouses. Yet, rightly understood, Manchester is as great a human exploit as Athens."


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