Chetham’s is built on a sandstone outcrop at the confluence of the Rivers Irwell and Irk, a site of strategic importance which has been occupied since Roman times. The present building dates from the second quarter of the fifteenth century. In 1421 Thomas de la Warre, Lord of Manchester and rector of the parish church, obtained a licence from Henry V to re-found the church as a collegiate body, with a warden, eight fellows, four clerks and six lay choristers.
De la Warre gave up his own manor house and land for the impressive new building, which was built of local sandstone, quarried in Collyhurst and brought to the site by river barge. The generous accommodation included a large hall, the warden’s own lodgings and a set of rooms for each of the fellows. In addition, the complex had its own bakehouse, brewery and stables, as well as ample domestic facilities and guest rooms. Other than the church it was the largest building in the medieval town of Manchester.
The survival of such a complete medieval domestic building is rare in itself, and its troubled history makes that survival all the more surprising. In 1547 the College was dissolved and the Stanley family acquired the property as a town residence. The College was re-founded, closed down and re-opened, but gradually fell into a state of disrepair until its triumphant resurrection as the vessel for Humphrey Chetham’s glorious legacy.