Manchester Cathedral’s Archives are stored on site in a purpose-built muniments room above the North Porch. The archives consists of two distinct collections: the Capitular papers and the Parish Records.
The Capitular records are the records of the Chapter, i.e. the Dean and Canons of the Cathedral and their predecessors, the Warden and Fellows of the Collegiate Church. The main records are the minutes of the Chapter meetings, which survive from 1635 onwards, but the bulk of the records is made up of sequences of legal records concerning the leases of land on the Chapter Estates, from which the foundation derived its income. In addition there are records concerning the fabric of the building from 1756, Precentors' registers (recording daily music settings) from 1863, service sheets and printed ephemera from 1832, and photographs of the building, ceremonies and individuals, c1850 to the present day.
The bulk of the material on the Parish side is made up of what is thought to be the largest complete series of parish registers (of baptisms, marriages and burials), for a single parish, in the country. There are over 450 leather and vellum bound volumes, covering the period from 1573 to the present day. The reason for this proliferation of registers is explained partly by the size of the ancient Parish of Manchester: sixty square miles including thirty townships. This is not uncommon in the north west of England, however; the Parish of Whalley included forty-five townships. The main difference was that Manchester changed from being a rural parish when it became the centre of the Industrial Revolution, and the population grew extremely rapidly in a very short space of time, from the middle of the eighteenth century. The other reason for the volume of baptisms and marriages conducted at Manchester was that the Collegiate Church retained a virtual monopoly over the licences to perform the ceremonies. There were outlying chapels within the parish, but a ceremony at one of the chapels was liable to a double fee – one to the chapel, and one to the mother church at the centre. After Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act of 1754, marriages at outlying chapels dramatically ceased. In 1847, the Collegiate Church was raised to Cathedral status and its stranglehold over the income from the ceremonies was broken three years later in 1850, after popular protest. The Manchester Parish Division Act broke up the Ancient Parish of Manchester and created many new parishes, leaving the Cathedral with a residual parish of a single square mile in the centre of the City.
The full catalogue is now available and fully searchable on the “Access to Archives” website http://www.a2a.org.uk Opens in new window through the National Archives. The Parish registers have been digitised by http://www.ancestry.co.uk Opens in new window and can be searched at their site. Free access to Ancestry.co.uk is available from any Manchester City Council library.
We do not have a Cathedral Honorary Archivist at present. Our Voluntary Archives Assistant volunteers on Monday mornings, please send your enquiry via email.