Thursday, 12 November 2015

The Manchester Mummy

This is a story with connections to my home town of Sale in Greater Manchester but we start at the Birchin Bower manor house, Oldham with a wealthy lady called Hannah Beswick born in 1688. It is believed that she had a brother who had died or so they thought until they were about to fix the coffin lid, eyes flickered and a physician was called...... John Beswick was still alive!

The brother lived for several more years and this caused Hannah to have a terrible fear of being buried alive. She requested to the family physician, Dr Charles White that upon her death she be checked periodically for signs of life until it was absolutely certain that she was indeed dead. This is where is all becomes a little puzzling. 
"White Charles physician" by Book by Charles James Cullingworth, engraving by W. Ward (1809) after a portrait by J. Allen - Frontispiece of Charles White, F. R. S.. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons -

Hannah died in 1758 and Dr White had her body embalmed even though there are no specific details of this being requested in the will. The amount of money that should have been left to the doctor is still disputed to this day, some say part of the will detailed money for a funeral so it is unsure as to why this did not happen. Hannah's mummified body was kept in an old grandfather clock case in White's home at Sale Priory, Dane Road, Sale for 55 years. Visitors would frequently go to look at this macabre spectacle. The casing had no clock-face, instead Hannah's face was in it's place, screened by a white veil.


White was a co-founder of the Manchester Royal Infirmary and was interested in anatomy, learning embalming techniques using a mixture of turpentine and vermilion. Did Dr White just want another addition to his macabre curiosity collection which included the skeleton of Thomas Higgins, a highway man from Knutsford ? 

The Dr died in 1813 and left Hannah to a friend Dr Ollier who in turn in his will left the mummy to the Museum of the Manchester Natural History Society where it was on show in the entrance hall and known as the Manchester Mummy, or the Mummy of Birchin Bower.

In 1868 it was decided that the mummy should have a burial since Hannah's initial request of being sure she was dead was undoubtedly true!  The ceremony took place at Harpurhey Cemetery on 22 July 1868 where she is in an unmarked grave that is now just a tangle of brambles and nettles.

Before the Birchin Bower manor house was demolished there were many ghostly sightings believed to be Hannah, perhaps unhappy that her real requests were not respected.


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