Very Brief History of Manchester
This very brief
history of Manchester is included here to help people who don't know
Manchester to understanding something of its history. I have made
every effort to make sure that everything on this page and throughout
the site is both interesting and accurate but I make no claim that it
is a comprehensive history. On this page I have tried to give
readers an overview of the story of Manchester from its earliest days
to the present. To do justice to this over the centuries would
take a lot more than this page offers but, if this page peaks your
interest, I hope you will look elsewhere for a more complete story.
As a child I was taken by my Dad to a coal yard in Castlefield beneath the railway viaducts carrying the rail line out of Central Station. This was long before this area of canals, railway lines, warehouses and commercial buildings became the trendy community of condominiums, museums and restaurants it is today. We wandered in unannounced and univited so he could show me a piece of stone wall among the brickwalls and coal heaps. This he told me was all that was left of the Roman fort that gave the area its name.
The fort sat at a major junction in Roman Britain where the east - west route from York to Chester intersected with the north-south route from Ribchester to Hadrian's Wall.
Below are the foundations of the buildings indicated in the image above.
If you go to the site today you can see a very new looking reconstruction of one of the stone gateways of the fort which was built in the 3rd century to replace two earlier turf and wood forts dating back to 79AD. The 1.6 hectare fort known as Mancunio or Mamucium gave the city its name. The Roman word "castrum" meaning fort became "chester" and English cities and towns with chester as part of their name were Roman military settlements, hence "Man - chester". In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle it was Mameceaster and in the Domesday Book, Mamecestre.
left in 140 AD and the area was overun by Anglian and Danish
Prior to the Norman Conquest the area which is now Manchester and the Lancashire Plain was occupied by the Mercian Angles. The Domesday Book records that in 1086 Manchester had a Parish Church. It is believed that it was located at the corner of St Mary's Gate and Exchange Street. In 1215 Lord of the Manor, Robert Greslet, built a church next to his manor house on a sandstone promentary between the Rivers Irwell and Irk and surrounded by a ditch known as the Hanging Ditch
In 1398 Thomas de
la Warre became the
Baron of the Manor of Manchester. In 1421 the church became a
Collegiate Foundation dedicated to
St Mary, St Denys and St George. On his death in 1426 Thomas de
la Warre left £3,000 to be
used on the buildings of his collegiate foundation. Most of this was
spent on converting the Baron's Hall into the house-of-residence for
the College Priests or Fellows.
Remanants of that
Manor House can be seen today in Chetham's School and Library.
The map above is an
inset on the Casson & Berry Map of Manchester & Salford
A bridge across
Hanging Ditch provided access to the church.
A portion of that bridge can be seen in the cafe of the Cathedral Visitor's Centre
1751 Casson & Berry are showing a much larger Manchester.
Christ Church, later to become the Cathedral, dominates
the community in the east and towards the west St. Anns with its spire,
later removed, stands prominently on a now built up Acres Field.
Quay Street, or Key Street as it is shown on the map, runs down to a
quay on the Irwell.
is their Manchester of 1751
Below are engravings on the Casson & Berry Map of Christ Church,
Sacret Trinity, St. Ann's and St, Ann's Square at that time.
England" by L.
Valentine and published by Frederick Warne and Co. it says of
Manchester at this time, "Manchestre was the fairest, best built,
quietest, and most populous town in Lancashire." Certainly we know that
it was a picturesque town in the reign of Elizabeth, having in it many
fine old halls, most of them of wood and plaster, fronted in black and
white, "magpie," as it was called.
as one of the world's great industrial cities and a leader in trade and
commerce. It was indeed the home of the Industrial
Revolution. In the early part of the 18th Century the area of
Manchester that today is referred to as The Northern Quarter was
already involved in industrial production and remnants of that
activity can be found today in the form of weaver's cottages.
Here are some that were demolished:
and here are some that have survived and are being renovated and given new functions.
At the same time
the wealthier members of the business community were building town
houses close to the city centre like these on Lever Street.
It was of course
mechanization which brought the huge boom in industrial activity and it
was the textile industry that changed the face of the city. In
Ancoats huge mills were built to produce textiles and within the city
centre the merchants built impressive packing and shipping
and banks were built in the area
around King Street as well as clubs to offer recreation and
intellectual stimulation mostly to the wealthy.
Here is a view of
the city in 1851 in the form of the Adshead map, shown here with the
permission of Chetham's Library.
The map shows the
Cathedral at "a" where Manchester began. By 1851 the Rochdale
"c", Ashton "d' and Bridgewater "f" canals were in place. The
railway had arrived and Victoria "b", London Road "e" and Liverpool
Road "g" stations can be seen.
In terms of
transportation routes though nothing was quite so dramatic in its
affect on the city as the Manchester Ship Canal which turned this
land-locked city into a seaport. Known affectionately as
The Big Ditch it runs for 36 miles and provides navigation for ocean
going ships into the edge of the city centre. It cost £15 Million
and took 7 years to build opening in 1894. At the Manchester end
an extensive system of wharves was lined with warehouses and the area
became the focus for further industrial and commercial
development. The Trafford Docks were surrounded by Trafford Park,
an industrial complex.
Manchester became a city of chimneys, both industrial and residential. The city was overcrowded and characterized by polluted air and water and unsanitary living conditions. The wealthy merchants moved further out to suburbs like Victoria Park leaving their workers in streets of terraced houses jammed close together in the shadow of the mills and factories.
By the time I came to know the city in the period after WWII it was still an industrial city with light and heavy manufacturing and trading on the world market through the Ship Canal. The predominant form of fuel was still coal and a haze covered the city even on good days. Most of the grand buildings in the city centre were black with soot.
Manchester is now in a post-industrial phase compared to those days. The Ship Canal is still there but the docks have gone because the shipping now goes to huge container ports elsewhere.
The warehouses and factories of Trafford Park have given way to waterside condominium and office blocks and The Imperial War Museum, The Lowry Arts Centre and the BBC's Media City are today's landmarks.
After the implementation of the Clean Air Act in 1956 the air did indeed clear over Manchester and for the first time in a long time you could see the surrounding Pennine Hills from the city centre and you could see the city from the top of the hills.
buildings were cleaned and I remember as a child being
shocked that they weren't actually black.
is a thriving city with two important universities,
a new and extensive banking district, the new BBC Media City and many
of the warehouses, mills and factories that once provided employment
have been converted into living spaces for those who work in the cities
offices. It is home to two Premiership football teams, the
National Cycling Centre and the British Track Cycling Team. The
city has a long history of excellence in the arts and boasts a number
of Art Galleries; the Bridgewater Hall, home to the Hallé Orchestra;
The Opera House and the Palace offering live entertainment and the
production studios of the BBC and Granada. Musically the city is
associated with important names from the classics to pop including Sir
John Barbarolli, Charles Hallé as well as The Smiths, Joy Division and
many more. Among the scientists, engineers and inventors the city
can boast of Richard Arkwright, John Dalton, Ernest Rutherford, Alcock
& Brown, James Joule and it was here that Rolls met Royce.
Anthony Burgess was a Manchester man and among the long list of actors
are Sir Ben Kingsley, Sir Ian McKellan, Pete Postlethwaite, Victoria
and the wonderful Maxine Peake.
Ancoats, the home
of the Industrial Revolution is being transformed
into a new community with old industrial buildings being renovated and
redeployed and state-of-the-art and cutting-edge buildings going up on
The old canals
have been rejuvinated and an ever expanding
Metrolink tram system is connecting together railway
stations, sporting and recreational venues and outlying
communities. The city features 2 mainline railway stations and an
In 2008 the City
covered an area of 11,565 hectares and stood at the heart of a Greater
Manchester that covers 127,608 hectares. The estimated population
of Manchester in 2007 was 422,915. The estimated population
within 30 mils of the Manchester City Centre was 11,291,216.
Compare that to the population in 1757 which was 17,101.