Lelande tells us that in his day (reign of Henry VIII.) "Manchestre was the fairest, best built, quietest, and most populous town in Lancashire." Certainly we know that it was a picturesque town in the reign of Elizabeth, having in it many fine old halls, most of them of wood and plaster, fronted in black and white, "magpie," as it was called. The style of the inferior houses is shown in an old tavern, called the Seven Stars, in Withy Grove. This is believed to be the oldest licensed public-house in Great Britain, and it has many historical reminiscences connected with it.
The front portion of the house in Withy Grove retains much of its original character. The tap-room, kitchen, bar parlour, and vestry are in excellent preservation. The vestry was the meeting place of the gentlemen who constituted the Watch and Ward of the town. At the top of the old staircase, on entering the hotel, can be seen an old clock, which has stood there for 200 years.
We read in Notes and Queries that "There is an old inn, or tavern, at the foot of Shude Hill, in Manchester, called the Seven Stars, which it is said has been a licensed house since A.D.1350; the proof of which lies in Lancaster Castle, where are deposited the records of the various licenses. I presume licenses were granted at this early period."
In the Manchester City News, April 25th, 1885, it is stated that in the course of structural alterations which were being carried on at the Seven Stars Hotel, Withy Grove, Manchester, some discoveries of silver plate were made, which pointed to the conclusion that, during the Cromwellian era, that house was occupied by Charles I.'s troops, and that a then celebrated regiment of dragoons had occasion to secrete their mess plate there, in some case of emergency.
The house has been licensed 511 years. In Harrison Ainsworth's "Guy Fawkes," a visit (authentic) of Guy Fawkes and his companions to the Seven Stars is described as follows:
"After much debate, it was decided that their safest plan would be to proceed to Manchester, where Humphrey Chetham undertook to procure them safe lodgings at the Seven Stars, - an excellent hostel, kept by a worthy widow, who, he affirmed, would do anything to serve him. Accordingly, they set out at nightfall, - Viviana taking her place before Guy Fawkes, and relinquishing Zayda to the young merchant and the priest. Shaping their course through Worsley, by Monton Green and Pendleton, they arrived in about an hour within sight of the town, which then, - not a tithe of its present size, and unpolluted by the smoky atmosphere in which it is now constantly enveloped, - was not without some pretensions to a picturesque appearance.
"Crossing Salford Bridge, they mounted Smithy Bank, as it was then termed, and proceeding along Cateaton Street and Hanging Ditch, struck into Whithing (now Withy) Grove, at the right of which, just where a few houses were beginning to straggle up Shude Hill, stood, and still stands, the comfortable hostel of the Seven Stars. Here they stopped, and were warmly welcomed by its buxom mistress, Dame Sutcliffe. Muffled in Guy Fawkes' cloak, the priest gained the chamber, to which he was ushered unobserved. And Dame Sutcliffe, though her Protestant notions were a little scandalized at her dwelling being made the sanctuary of a Popish priest, promised, at the instance of Master Chetham, whom she knew to be no favourer of idolatry in a general way, to he answerable for his safety."
On entering the hotel, the following words will be seen on a door:
"Ye Guy Faux Chamber."
This is the room in which Guy Faux was concealed the night on which he made his escape. 'The old door still remains from which he made his exit.
In the year 1805, when Napoleon was threatening an invasion of England, and had gathered a flotilla at Boulogne to bring over his army, a press-gang were staying at the Seven Stars to press seamen for our naval defence, on which the safety of England depended. Seeing a farmer's servant leading up Withy Grove a horse that had lost a shoe, they seized or pressed him, and brought him into the hotel. Before leaving it, he nailed the loose horseshoe to a pillar in the lobby, saying, "Let this shoe stay here till I come from the wars to claim it."
It is there still.
At the beginning of the civil war of the seventeenth century, Manchester was the scene of some severe fighting. The townsmen were favourable to the Parliament, because they believed that Charles was favourable to Popery.
There was heavy fighting at the bridge which preceded that now called
the "Victoria," the combat being carried on even in the churchyard adjoining
it. But the Cavaliers never succeeded in any of their attacks upon Manchester. Soon
after the Restoration there was a great influx of people into the town, and
also into Liverpool, from the neighbouring districts, and in Queen Anne's
reign another church was built, called St. Anne's. The commerce of Manchester
grew rapidly after the Irwell had become navigable to its confluence with
the Mersey, and the mechanical inventions of later times have made Manchester
into a most populous and thriving centre of the cotton trade. Factories arose
in every part of it, and new streets sprang up.
Modern Manchester can boast of two splendid buildings in the Gothic style: the Assize Courts and the Town Hall, the apex of the tower, crowned with its gilt ball, is 286 feet high. The painted glass windows are remarkable for harmony of colouring.
There is, also, the cathedral, for we have a Bishop of Manchester now, and there are wonderfully fine buildings in Dean's Gate.
It has been cleverly said that while "Liverpool is one great wharf, Manchester is one great warehouse," 2 for this is exactly true. A visit to the warehouses of Manchester is always full of interest to the traveller.
Manchester is famed for its love of music, as indeed Liverpool also is; in fact, music seems inherent in Lancashire folk, as well as in Staffordshire. For glees and madrigals, they rival the old Saxon gleemen and glee maidens; they love flowers, as their frequent shows manifest, and pictures, as the purchases of their millionaires prove; and are remarkable, in fact, for industry, economic ideas, and generally strong intelligence.
The one little gleam of romance attached to Manchester is the appearance there of Prince Charles Stuart, on the 28th of November, 1745. At the head of his vanguard, he reached Lancaster on Nov. 24th, wearing a Stuart plaid, with a blue sash and a blue bonnet, with a white rose, the badge of the House of York, in front. He had not more than 5,600 men with him when he entered Lancashire, hoping that the English Jacobites would rise there, and these soldiers were chiefly Highland clans, led by their chiefs to the music of the bagpipes. On their banners were inscribed, "Liberty and Property - Church and King." Their arms were the broadsword, dirk, and shield, and a few were musketeers. They were led by the Prince, the Dukes of Perth and Athol, the Marquises of Montrose and Dundee, and twelve other Scotch and English noblemen. Generally the most rigid discipline was enforced, but in some cases they seized the farmers' horses for mounting their cavalry.
At Manchester they were joined by 200 English Jacobites, who were formed into a regiment commanded by Colonel Townley, and called the Manchester Regiment; it continued with the Prince's army till the battle of Culloden. The opinions of the Manchester people had greatly changed since Charles I.'s time; then they had been Roundheads, now they were Jacobites, and they welcomed Prince Charles with illuminations and every public demonstration of joy.
From thence Charles Edward marched through Stockport to Derby, from whence he made his fatal retreat. After the lost battle of Culloden, a considerable number of his English partizans, principally officers of the Manchester regiment, were taken to London and tried for high treason. At the head of these unfortunate men stood Francis Townley, nephew of Mr. Townley, of Townley Hall, Lancashire.
They were all condemned to the savage death for traitors; there were seventeen tried; of that number Francis Townley, Colonel of the Manchester Regiment; T. T. Deacon, James Dawson, John Darwick, George Fletcher, and Andrew Blood, captains in it; Thomas Chadwick, lieutenant; Thomas Syddall, adjutant, all of the same regiment, and David Morgan, a volunteer in the prince's army, were executed on Kennington Common, on the 30th of July, with all the horrid accompaniments; drawn on a hurdle, partially hanged, then the heart was taken out, and the body quartered. As they mounted the scaffold, each of the prisoners made a sort of confession of faith; seven of the nine declaring themselves to be of the Church of England, and all met their fate with heroic constancy. The heads of Colonel Townley and Captain George Fletcher were placed on Temple Bar; the heads of the other prisoners were preserved in spirits, and sent into the country, to be placed on the gates of Manchester and Carlisle.
A most touching and tragic story belongs to these executions. James Dawson was engaged to be married to a beautiful young girl, whose sorrow at his imprisonment and sentence may be imagined. She saw him constantly through bribing the jailers, and bade him a last adieu the night before his death; but her devoted affection caused her to insist on going to Kennington Common to be with him to the last. As might have been expected, the horror of the scene proved fatal, and as her lover's heart was held up, she sank back and died. Shenstone has made this tragedy the subject of a very pretty poem.
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1. There is a tradition that the workmen who built this collegiate church had a penny a day and their meals at the old Seven Stars Hotel.
2. "Lancashire, ' by Leo Grindon.