Roman Catholic Sectarian Violence in Manchester - July 1888

In July 1888, a group of militant Irish Roman Catholics attacked an English Orange Order parade in Manchester. This article uncovers newspaper reports from 1888 to show the level of sectarian violence against Orangemen at an Orange parade to St Marks Church in Ancoats, central Manchester. A large group of militant Roman Catholics attacked Orangemen with axes and pokers as the procession passed nearby. The press reports make shocking reading and highlight the underlying sectarianism that existed amongst groups of Irish Roman Catholic immigrants to Manchester and cities such as Liverpool and Glasgow around this time.


St Marks Church, Ancoats Manchester

An illustration of St Mark's Church, Holland Street, Ancoats where Orangemen were due to worship after parading from Aytoun Street in Manchester

The Manchester Guardian reported:

A ‘Serious affray in Ancoats – attack on Orange procession’.  It went on to say: ‘what has every appearance of being a premeditated attack on an Orange procession occurred yesterday afternoon in Ancoats.  In connection with a demonstration of Orangemen on Saturday next, a service had been arranged to take place in St Mark’s Church on Holland Street.  The members of the different lodges gathered at the top of Portland Street.  They had a number of banners with them and most of them were wearing their regalia … two men Joseph Walmsley of Bradford and Daniel Ritchie of Pendleton were seriously injured almost at the outset.  Both received scalp wounds in each case, evidently the result of a blow with a hatchet’.

The Liverpool Mercury of 9 July 1888 published the following report:

Serious Riot at Manchester.  Several persons injured.  A serious collision between Orangemen and [Roman] Catholics took place in Manchester yesterday afternoon.  The members of several prominent Orange lodges in the city gathered near the Royal Infirmary for the purpose of proceeding to St Mark’s Church in Holland Street, where a special service was announced to be held.  The members, to the number of about 120, were wearing the usual regalia, and when the procession had been formed they proceeded to Ancoats, in which the district church is situated.  Passing along Canal-street, a narrow thoroughfare, populated chiefly by Irish Roman Catholics, they met with extraordinary opposition.  A band of Catholics rushed from a yard, armed with hatchets, knives, pokers, and bottles, and made a desperate onslaught on the processionists.  Being utterly taken by surprise and overwhelmed by superior numbers, the Orangemen made a feeble resistance, and as they ran along the streets they were knocked down with hatchets and pokers and bottles thrown by infuriated women.  Two of their number – Joseph Walmsley, Bradford, and Daniel Ritchie, Pendleton – were badly injured, and others received serious scalp and bodily wounds.  The regalia was torn from them, and but for the timely arrival of 30 policemen who had been telephoned for, the affray would have had a fatal termination.  The ugly weapons with which the assaulting party were armed placed the Orangemen almost at their mercy, and they were pitilessly cut down as they attempted to get out of the street, or knocked down with heavy pokers wielded by savage Irishmen.  The riot, however, was quickly quelled on the arrival of the police, and the ringleaders were taken into custody.  A large number of the Orangemen were taken to the Ancoats Hospital, and although many ghastly wounds had been inflicted, it is not anticipated that any fatal result will ensue.  Up to last night the police were busily engaged in arresting prominent members of the aggressive faction, who had evidently organised the attack for several hours before the Orangemen arrived at the scene of their ambush.  The latter are described as a very respectable body of members, from which no provocation preceded to justify the outrage’.

The Belfast News Letter of 10 July 1888 published the following report:

The Attack Upon Manchester Orangemen.  Further Details.  An outrageous and entirely unprovoked attack was, on Sunday afternoon, made upon the Manchester Orangemen as they were proceeding to church.  The brethren assembled in Aytoun Street, but owing to some of the members coming up late a diversion was made by a shorter route than that intended to the church of St Mark’s, Holland Street, where the service was to be held, by the way of Canal Street, Ancoats.  This is a notorious hotbed of Roman Catholicism.  No sooner had they entered Canal Street than signs of a coming storm became manifest.  Between two and three hundred rowdies, women as well as men, commenced a furious attack on the rear of the procession, using sticks, belts, bottles, and even knives and hatchets.  The Orangemen, being entirely unprepared, were for a time taken off their guard, but quickly recognising their danger, they stoutly defended themselves.  At the first onset, Mr Gorton, marshal of the procession, was knocked down, and struck on the head with a belt and a poker; Joseph Walmsley was struck in the face and on the head by a poker, and knocked down and kicked.  Three or four others of the processionists were also seriously maltreated, and these, having had their wounds dressed at the Ancoats Hospital, went home.  The police ultimately arrived and dispersed the assailants.  Seven of the latter were brought before the sitting magistrates yesterday, charged with riot and disorderly conduct, and two of them, named M’Hugh, were further charged with serious assaults on one of the processionists and a constable.  It was shown that the attack was first begun by the women, to whom remonstrances were unavailingly addressed, and they were then joined by their male associates.  Some constables saw the disturbance, and they immediately ran down and took several of the prisoners into custody, the remainder being subsequently apprehended.  In the case of a prisoner named M’Mahon a remand was asked for, as the victim was unable to appear.  Two prisoners, M’Hugh and M’Mahon were sent to jail for two months with hard labour.  Mary Ann M’Hugh was fined 40s, and others were fined 40s and 20s respectively’.

St Mark’s Church, Holland Street was built in 1884 and according to the ‘History of the Diocese of Manchester’, ‘gained a reputation as an ‘Orange’ church.  As early as 1923 the Vicar, the Rev E Waddington was waging a campaign against Prayer Book revision … and … ‘the deplorable state of our National Church.  Two wrongs don’t make a right and if ecclesiastically, non-recognition of increasing illegalities has created such an impasse as we witness today, it does not follow that such illegalities must be adjudicated legal in order to find a place in the established church for such wanton law-breakers.  The proposed revision of the Prayer Book is most subtle in its tendencies and in many ways diametrically opposed to the spirit of our present Prayer Book’.’

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