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Page last updated at 13:01 GMT, Wednesday, 29 July 2009 14:01 UK
Revealing the Salford Hundred

A representation of late medieval Manchester, drawn in the 1950s
A different medieval Manchester may soon be revealed

From Roman Mamucium to the 'dark satanic mills' of the Industrial Revolution, you might think that you know the history of Greater Manchester.

According to a local archaeologist though, there's a major gap in your knowledge - and it is one that, when filled in, could change the story of the area forever.

Stuart Mendelsohn says that understanding the history of the Salford Hundred - a medieval administrative area that roughly took in all but the southern parts of Greater Manchester - is crucial to the story of the region.

As a result, he has set up a blog, Finding Medieval Documentation for Salford Hundred, to collate information and help show just what medieval Manchester was like.

He says he started the blog after he "found that a lot of the history of Manchester in medieval documents is unknown, even to some experts."

Most surprisingly, he explains that "when you look at this information, it changes the interpretation of the early history of the North West."

Rochdale's rich history

Quite how far off the reality of medieval Manchester the modern perception is is becoming clear to Stuart through his research, as he says even looking at tiny areas can reveal a wealth of new, historically significant information.

Stuart Mendelsohn
Stuart says knowing the history of the Salford Hundred is crucial

"When you look at some areas, you find amazing things. People think that Rochdale, for example, is not so interesting historically - wrong, absolutely wrong!

"Whitworth, a small village near Rochdale, has nearly 100 medieval charters mentioning land transfers in the Coucher Book of Whalley Abbey [which records land gifts to the medieval Cistercian monastery].

"That means that the people in Whitworth and Rochdale had a higher status legally than the majority of the population in southern England - and that's obvious, because you wouldn't need to write 100 charters if it was just one big landlord.

"What you see is that there were many separate individuals who were able to give land in the 13th century, and that must show a very different land ownership than the presumed one feudal lord and many peasants who couldn't do much.

"So the truth is contradictory to what most people assume the area was like - that it was poorly populated and a poor area."

Mistakes and misinterpretations

All of Stuart's findings - which also include evidence of commercial textile production by small holders in the area four centuries before the Industrial Revolution - throw up the question why the medieval history of Greater Manchester has been misreported in the past.

He says that it's not surprising that mistakes and misinterpretations have happened in the past, as there are several factors that make the researching of this period difficult.

There are a lot of people that don't know about the records - making them an untapped gold mine of historical information
Stuart Mendelsohn

"A lot of the documents are in Medieval Latin - and not everyone reads Medieval Latin - so someone has to translate them.

"And even when some of them were translated over a century ago, those books have now gone out of print and people just haven't looked at them.

"Also, the records are all over the country and archiving differs from place to place.

"I went to the Bodleian Library in Oxford to ask about the Black Book of Clayton, a collection of deeds from the area which includes information about the Byron family, and they didn't know what is was.

"When I asked them about the Byron Chartulary, its other name, they knew it straight away - but the Victorian county history talks about the Black Book - so things can get confusing.

"As a result, what I found is that even when people have done surveys, they haven't looked at the history books or even the major records.

"But I realised that the reason they hadn't is because they don't know about them.

"There are a lot of people that don't know about the records - making them an untapped gold mine of historical information."

A proud heritage

A drawing of Chetham's Library from 1850
Chetham's Library dates from the late medieval period

Stuart says that by revealing this history through his blog and through the newly formed Salford Hundred Heritage Society, he won't just be helping to complete the story of Manchester, but also be giving Greater Mancunians a history to revel in.

"I hope this awareness will lead to people being more proud of their heritage, environment and local communities.

"I hope it will get people involved and lead them to say 'this is special for where I live - it's my landscape and my history' and be proud of that."


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