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13 November 2014

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You are in: Manchester > History > History features > The oldest building in Greater Manchester?

Chetham's, St Leonard's Church, Ordsall Hall

What is our oldest building?

The oldest building in Greater Manchester?

Ask someone what the oldest building in Greater Manchester is and you'll probably get answers like Ordsall Hall, Manchester Cathedral or Chetham's Library – but none of them even come close to the title.

There are plenty of ruins – such as what's left of Mamucium, Roman Manchester, in Castlefield or Castlesteads Iron Age fort in Bury – that can lay claim to being the oldest in the region but none of them are complete structures any more.

So what is the oldest building which is still in use and is either completely ancient or incorporates unaltered parts of earlier structures?

The Church of St Chad in Rochdale (c) Aidan O'Rourke

The Church of St Chad (c) Aidan O'Rourke

While all three of those opening suggestions are old – parts of both Manchester Cathedral and Chetham’s can be traced to the 15th Century and Ordsall Hall incorporates 14th Century structures – the three most likely candidates predate them by at least a century, and given that the region has no standing castles, it comes as little surprise that they are all churches.

The Church of St Mary the Virgin in Eccles stands on the site of a Norman church and while nothing of that building still exists, there are parts of the current building, at the west end of the north aisle and base of the tower, which were built in the 13th Century.

North-east of there, in the centre of Rochdale, a claimant hides in plain sight – the tower of the Church of Saint Chad. While the upper section of it was added as recently as 1870, the original construction which lies below dates to the 1200s.

The Church of St Leonard in Middleton (c) L Wolf

The Church of St Leonard (c) L Wolf

Yet the most likely candidate for the title is the Church of St Leonard in Middleton. Like St Mary’s, it also has Norman beginnings – in fact, remnants of the Norman church exist in fragments of a billet frieze used in part of its north arcade and there is a suggestion that some of the tower may date to the early 1100s – but its best proven claim for the title comes from its priests door (the priest’s private entrance to the church), which was built in the mid 13th Century.

It seems that all three churches can lay a claim to the title – with St Leonard’s appearing to have the strongest case – but as no documents have ever been found detailing the exact dates when they were originally built, quite which one is actually the oldest building in Greater Manchester may never be known.

Your suggestions

From Anon: St Wilfrid's Church in Northenden is in the Domesday Book...

What we found: Yes, the village of Northenden is in the Domesday Book (1086), though the manor is described as 'vasta' which means 'wasted'. which suggests the original church no longer exists. English Heritage say the present Church of St Wilfrid's was rebuilt in 1873-76.

From Mat Nichol: What about St Michael's Church in Flixton? The rear wall behind the alter is what remains of a church built by a Viking called Orm (a Christian) in the Ninth Century. Orm gave his name to what is now Urmston, being Orme's Ton. The area is mentioned in the Domesday Book, although spelt as Flyxton. I think it was named in a similar way.

What we found: Like many churches, St Michael's is built on the site of an older building, but none of that building remains - a Viking church would most likely have been a wood built structure and long since have rotted away - and now its oldest part is the chancel, which dates to the 15th Century

From Pamela Mee: The Old Wellington Inn in Shambles Square

What we found: The building that later became The Old Wellington Inn was built in 1552

From Philip Timmins: How about Warburton Old Church?

What we found: The Old Church Of Saint Werburg in Warburton is a reconstructed ancient church, rebuilt in the late 17th Century, making it difficult to date, though it does contain a sarcophagus thought to date from the 12th Century

From David Wood in Macclesfield: The Norman Chapel alongside St Peters Church in Prestbury, Cheshire, is said to have been built in the 12th Century around the time 1190-1199. It was restored in the 18th century but the original Norman Arch is well preserved.

What we found: Parts of the Chapel are indeed Norman, dating from around 1150, which makes it older, but as David points out, it's in Cheshire, so can only make a claim for the title of oldest building in the North West

last updated: 15/01/2009 at 09:19
created: 07/01/2009

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