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You are in: Manchester > Faith > Manchester and its many bishops

The Rt Reverends Mark Davies and Chris Edmondson

The new bishops of Middleton and Bolton

Manchester and its many bishops

Last month, the Anglican church ordained two new priests to the positions of Bishop of Bolton and of Middleton, who sit alongside the Bishops of Manchester and of Hulme - but why does the Diocese of Manchester have so many bishops?

Glossary of Anglican terms

Province: the area under the jurisdiction of an archbishop – also known as an archdiocese
Diocese: the district under the care of a bishop – also known as a bishopric
Archbishop: the chief bishop, in charge of a province
Bishop: has authority over a diocese, in charge of a cathedral but ranking beneath an archbishop
Suffragan Bishop: an assistant to the bishop, with no cathedral

It’s all down to Manchester’s industrial expansion in the Victorian period, though the story of the Manchester diocese starts much earlier than that. Manchester was originally in the Diocese of Chester, which covered a huge area, from Nantwich in the south to Cumbria in the north.

Boom times and boundaries

In 1836, such was the building of new churches and the population boom in the new industrial cities of the north that the Bishop of Chester was finding it increasingly difficult to get around on the train network and attend to his congregation’s needs.

As a result, a period of boundary reform began, with the forming of a new Diocese of Manchester in 1847, covering the area of Manchester, Leyland, Blackburn and Amounderness (the latter three areas being most of modern Lancashire).

Area covered by the Diocese of Manchester in 1847

Area covered by the Diocese of Manchester in 1847

This measure proved not to be enough, with the ever increasing population meaning that further division was necessary. The future Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, was appointed as Bishop of Manchester in 1921 with the brief to divide the new diocese. A split of Stockport, Preston and Lancaster was suggested but Temple wanted a Diocese of Manchester and for it to include Stockport.

Eventually, the Diocesan Conference decided to make the division of Manchester in the south and Blackburn in the north in 1926 and leave Stockport under the authority of Chester (a move which pleased the Diocese of Chester as much of their wealth was in the Cheadle, Gatley and Alderley area).

Suffragan city

Around the same time, the first of Manchester’s suffragan bishops, the Bishop of Hulme, was appointed (in 1924) to aid the transition to the new dioceses.

Manchester Cathedral

Manchester Cathedral

Hulme was chosen because it was one of the most deprived areas of the diocese and it was hoped that it would offer some encouragement to appoint a bishop to the area; also, it was a very busy Anglican area - there were originally ten churches in the area now covered by the single parish of The Ascension on Stretford Road.

By contrast, the second suffragan bishop, created in 1927, was the Bishop of Middleton, with the town being chosen because it was one of the most ancient parishes within the area.

The third and final suffragan bishop in the diocese, the Bishop of Bolton, was introduced in 1984. Bolton was chosen because it is the largest town in the northern part of the diocese and the Church felt there was a need to create a balance in the diocesan area.

Anglican Manchester, Catholic Salford…

The obvious question that arises from all of this is why is there no Bishop of Salford? The truth is there has never been an Anglican bishop in the west of the diocese, due to the presence of Salford’s Roman Catholic Cathedral.

Salford Cathedral (c) Manchester Image Archives

Salford's Catholic Cathedral in 1850

Just as the Anglican Church was creating the new Diocese of Manchester in the 1840s, the Catholic Emancipation (which saw a reduction and removal of many of the restrictions on Roman Catholics) was taking place across Britain, leading to the building of a new Catholic Cathedral on Church Street in Salford.

The cathedral would be the seat for the Bishop of Salford, who would oversee the Catholic Diocese of Salford. As a result, the Anglican Church thought that a Suffragan Bishop of Salford would cause confusion, and decided that as Salford was considered part of the municipality of Manchester, the Salford faithful could be served by the Bishop of Manchester.

One final change

Since the separation off of the Diocese of Blackburn in 1926, the boundaries of the Diocese of Manchester have only changed once.

The traditional southern boundary of the diocese had been the River Mersey, but when Manchester City Council acquired the land to build Wythenshawe, shortly after the division of the two dioceses had taken place, it was decided that it should become part of the Manchester Diocese, and so the area was annexed from Chester Diocese to Manchester, finally completing the diocese that exists today.

Thanks to Canon Arthur Dobb and George Lane of the Anglican Diocese of Manchester for their help with this article

last updated: 08/05/2008 at 16:30
created: 08/05/2008

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