One of the ways in which the medieval world was radically different from early 21st century Britain was the manner in which religion was woven into everyday life. Salford was no different. Religious belief expressed itself in many ways during this period but one of the more ostentatious was through the donation of land to the church, parish, or monastery, by the local manorial lords and freeholders. Individually, reasons would have varied for such a donation, from a desire to do good work or to shorten one’s stay in purgatory to a more worldly expression of your status and power. These mind-sets have left us three very important sites, amongst them the oldest building to survive in Salford, the parish church at Eccles.
St Mary the Virgin on Church Street in Eccles still dominates the centre of the town. First mentioned in 1130, the local place-name hints at a much earlier foundation, as does the presence of an Anglo-Saxon cross found nearby (see my previous blog on Early Medieval Salford). Much of the sandstone fabric of church dates to the 15th and early 16th centuries. This includes the short western tower, parts of the southern porch and sections of the northern and southern chapels. Inside the late medieval wooden nave roof dominates the space. Its shallow–pitched arch-braced trusses and blind tracery are reminiscent of the 15th century nave roof at Manchester Cathedral.
A monastic connection links St Mary’s with two other sites in late medieval Salford: control by one of the many monasteries of late medieval England. The right to appoint the priest to the parish of Eccles, known as the advowson, was acquired by Whalley Abbey in Lancashire in 1230. This monastic influence can also be seen at Kersall Cell and Monks Hall both of which began as monastic farms.
Kersall Cell was founded as a Cluniac cell in the mid-12th century, attached to Lenton Priory in Nottinghamshire. The Cell, which acted in part as the local estate centre for administering the lands gifted to the priory in this part of southern Lancashire, never housed more than a couple of monks. It was closed in 1538 as part of the dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII. The Cell was then bought by the Kenyon family in the mid-16th century as a freehold property, when it was converted into a domestic residence.
Archaeological survey during the 1990s revealed the remains of a two-storey timber-framed hall and cross-wing house. The earliest part of this house was the central cruck-framed hall dating to c. 1515. This formed a medieval-style two-bay, open hall, structure in which the monks would have lived. The Kenyon family greatly altered the building in the mid-16th century by inserting an upper floor into the open hall, and adding wall paintings and decorative friezes as well as a pair of two-storey timber-framed wings. Nevertheless the core of the house has the distinction of being the only surviving monastic building in historic south-eastern Lancashire.
Monks Hall was built on land owned by Stanlaw (later Whalley) Abbey. In the 13th and 14th centuries there was probably a farmstead here from which the monks managed their estates. Later, in 1465, the house was occupied by ‘John Reddish of the Monks Hall’, presumably a tenant of the abbey. After the dissolution of Whalley Abbey in 1537, the building was sold and in the 1580s was occupied by Ellis Hey.
Archaeological survey work in 2007 and 2010 showed that the medieval buildings had been rebuilt in the 16th century. The earliest parts of the site were the timber-framed northern range, which in turn was a fragment of a larger hall and cross-wing building. This structure was probably used as a service wing by the Hey family and was built in the 1580s. Although this section of the house was not medieval it is possible that like Kersall Cell parts of the earlier monastic range survived down to the extensive rebuilding of the house in a Gothic style around 1800.