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Manchester Hanging Bridge and Town Defences

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Old Man Castle; Hanging Ditch

In the civil parish of Manchester.
In the historic county of Lancashire.
Modern Authority of Manchester.
1974 county of Greater Manchester.
Medieval County of Lancashire.

OS Map Grid Reference: SJ83859869
Latitude 53.48473° Longitude -2.24477°

Manchester Hanging Bridge and Town Defences has been described as a probable Fortified Bridge, and also as a probable Urban Defence.

There are masonry footings remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.


Turner writes 'Roman fort was re-used in early C10', presumably as a Saxon urban burh. Part of fort's walls is still visible. The castle and medieval town appear to have been 750m further north at a naturally stronger point. Bond puts the Roman and Saxon defences in his 'of no post-Conquest significance' list. The suggestion that the Roman fort was reused is weak, although there was a small Anglo-Saxon settlement outside the north gate (see PastScape 1084823 and the possible Saxon and probably medieval town defences were probably the Hanging Ditch near the church, although this did not include all of the later medieval town.

The Hanging Bridge immediately south of Manchester Cathedral is a rare survival of a medieval structure in the city centre. It is particularly notable for its context, close to the cathedral and is related by excavation to the Hanging Ditch and the medieval defences of the town. It survives in good condition and recent refurbishing of the buildings and environment which overlie and surround the monument have brought the remains into prominence as an educational and recreational enhancement for the public.
The monument includes the standing and buried remains of a medieval bridge now incorporated in the basement of the visitor's centre for Manchester Cathedral. The remains are located between Cathedral Yard and Cateaton Street. The bridge was originally built to span the Hanging Ditch which was an improved natural watercourse which led past the church, as the cathedral then was, and joined the River Irwell to the north. The ditch was a part of the defences of the medieval town, which lay to the north, and connected the road from Chester to the town centre. The name of the bridge is believed to derive from the wooden bridge, previously on this site, which was suspended over the ditch and was removable.
The bridge is documented from the 14th century and the fabric of the present bridge dates from the 15th century although there appear to be two different phases of construction.
The remains consist of two arches of red sandstone, the southern arch strengthened by three stone ribs. It measures approximately 3m in width and each arch spans 5.13m. One buttress survives on the eastern side. The arches rise to 3m above the abutments and central pier. (Scheduling Report)

The promontory between the Rivers Irk and Irwell, an area some 300 yds N-S by 250 yds E-W, has long been identified as the focus for the growth of Manchester in historical times. It was fortified by an earthwork which probably followed the line of the modern Toad Lane, Hanging Ditch, Cateaton Street and Smithy Bank (SJ 84009892 to SJ 8357 9869). The fortification should probably be ascribed to the Early Saxon period, and this is substantiated by the discovery of an Anglo Saxon cinerary urn and a sculptured stone in the vicinity. (PastScape 76786)

Regarding Hanging Bridge being fortified Peter McKeague notes in Watson's gazetteer "Tenuous, but presume there is a gate in city wall behind the ditch?". There is, in fact, no suggestion of a town wall at Manchester the 'defenses' being a ditch. There is the suggestion the earlier wooden bridge was a drawbridge and the later bridge may have had a bar gate but there is nothing to suggest a gatehouse.
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:21:27

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