In the Jacobite Chronicles I set part of the action in the city of Manchester and the surrounding area. There are a few reasons why I chose this town as the birthplace of the Cunningham family, some personal, some historical.
The personal reasons are that I lived in Manchester for many years, and knew both the town and the surrounding areas reasonably well, and I thought it would be easier to write convincingly about a familiar place. It was also one of the first personal touches I put in the books.
But there were sound historical reasons too. Manchester had a strong Jacobite movement, and many of the local dignitaries were fervently in favour of a Stuart restoration. It was the only English town that raised a whole regiment for Prince Charles, whose members when captured later were treated with particular brutality by the British authorities. In addition to this the Jacobite army came to Manchester at the end of November 1745, and a young lady by the name of Beppy Byrom kept a diary of the event, which is very interesting to read, and which I could access at the library (this research was done in 2004, when such things were not accessible online!)
Manchester itself is a very old town, and started life as a Roman military settlement. The Romans built a wooden fort here in around 79AD, which was rebuilt in stone in 200AD. The fort was called Mamucium, and a civilian settlement followed, which provided goods and services to the Roman soldiers.
In 400AD the Romans left Britain, and the area was later occupied by the Mercians. In the Domesday Book of 1086 it was named Mamecestre, and had a parish church. It continued to thrive, and by the 16th century had a grammar school and about 5,000 inhabitants, so was an important town in the northern county of Lancashire. An outbreak of plague in the 17th century killed about a quarter of the population, but industry continued, and the town was famous for wool and cotton, and silk was also woven here.
The 17th century traveller Celia Fiennes described Manchester thus: ‘Manchester looks exceedingly well as you enter. Very substantial buildings, the houses are not very lofty but mostly of brick and stone. The old houses are timber. There is a very large church, all stone and it stands high (above the town) so that by walking around the churchyard you see the whole town. This is a thriving place. The market is large it takes up 2 streets.’
By the start of the Jacobite Chronicles, Manchester had a population of around 10,000, its own newspaper and a quay on the River Irwell, the river which separated Manchester from its twin city Salford. Manchester now had its own cotton exchange too, as well as a college, a hospital and a library. Daniel Defoe, in A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain says of the town: ‘it is extended in a surprising manner; abundance, not of new houses only, but of new streets of houses, are added, a new church also, and they talk of another, and a fine new square is at this time building.’
The area which I focus more on in the Jacobite Chronicles, the Market Place and surrounding streets however, was in the main not new-built, apart from the Exchange which had been built there by Sir Oswald Mosley, Lord of the Manor, in 1729. The Market Place was of course a busy area, and many of the buildings there were shops with living accommodation at the rear and above.
Adjacent to the Market Place was an area called Smithy Door. The name is said to have originated due to a blacksmith setting up his forge there, but by the 18th century it was a maze of buildings dating from the middle ages onwards, a perfect place for a nest of Jacobite sympathisers to meet! It was as I’ve described it in Mask of Duplicity, a somewhat run-down place by then, inhabited by poorer people and inviting for criminals due to the maze of dark and narrow alleyways.
John Shaw’s Punch House was here, and was said to have been a very orderly place, closing every night at eight o’clock. John Shaw had a cleaning lady, Molly, and both of them seem to have been pretty formidable, as they were very efficient at clearing the pub at closing time! Shaw’s served two sizes of punchbowl, a P and a Q size, and the size you were allowed to have depended on the number of your party.
In my next blog I’ll talk about Manchester in the time of the 1745 rising, and later.