18th September 2002
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Making History

Dr Charles White's Bridge

John Armour from Knutsford wanted to know the truth behind a story he has known about since he was a youngster in Sale.

A bridge in the town, which crosses the Bridgewater Canal, was known as Dr Charles White's Bridge. Dr Charles White was supposed to have been a doctor who, in the eighteenth century, mummified a patient at her own request. She was Hannah Beswick, a rich benefactor of a hospital in Manchester. The story was that she had left her fortune to the doctor on the condition that she was to be mummified and her body kept at his house. She also stipulated that, once a year, the doctor was to uncover her face and look upon it. According to the legend, he complied with the will's instructions and kept the mummified body in a grandfather clock in the attic of his house. When he died, Hannah Beswick's body was taken to The Manchester Museum. It was later buried in one of the city's cemeteries.

The story is true and was researched by Dr George Fildes, for both The Manchester Museum and Making History. According to Dr Fildes, Charles White lived on Dane Road in Sale. With Joseph Bancroft, he founded the maternity wing of what is now the Manchester Royal Infirmary. When Bancroft died, Dr White turned to Hannah Beswick of Cheetham Hall for finance for the hospital and she lent him £30,000 in 1756. She died two years later and Dr White kept her body, preserved with tar, in a clock case in his house. He was acting on her phobia of being buried alive which had been brought about when her brother, thought to be dead, was found still to be breathing as the coffin was screwed down. A future Czar of Russia is even thought to have visited the mummy before her burial, 110 years after her death. Dr White also held the remains of Thomas Higgins, a notorious highwayman from Knutsford.

Hannah Beswick was buried in an unmarked grave in a Manchester cemetery after permission had been obtained from the Home Secretary in 1868.

Dr White's house, Sale Priory (which never was a priory), was demolished in 1932, but the bridge remains.

Places to visit

Dr Charles White's Bridge
It crosses the Bridgewater Canal, near Dane Road and Priory Garden in Sale, just south of the M60.

The Manchester Museum
The University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL
Tel: 0161 275 2634. Fax: 0161 275 2676
The first collections were assembled by the Manchester Society of Natural History, formed in 1821. Hannah Beswick's mummified body was temporarily housed there. In 1885 the museum was moved to a new site in a building commissioned by Owen's College (now the University of Manchester), which accepted responsibility for the collections in 1867. Alfred Waterhouse, the architect of the Natural History Museum in London, also designed The Manchester Museum.

Further reading
Cliff Hayes, Bygone Sale and Ashton-on-Mersey (Beaver Publishing, 1995)
John Timpson, Timpson's English Eccentrics (Jarrold, 1994)
N.V. Swain, A History of Sale (Sigma Press, 1994)

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