The history of the city of Manchester is ingrained into our university’s reputation, from the John Rylands Library to the Whitworth Art Gallery, and right down the curry mile to Ashburne Hall. Its prominence spurred by the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century, Manchester has remained renowned for its liberal politics and confidence.
Old Manchester (known as Ancient ‘Mamucium’) was established in the Roman period, in approximately 80AD. Built as a wooden fort protecting a Roman road from the ruling Celtic tribe of the North-West, Manchester’s origins were humble. The Romans left Mamucium in around the 3rd century, yet people returned in the 5th century and built Christian and Pagan places of worship. After seemingly surviving the Norman Conquest, there is also mention of a village called ‘Mamechester’ in the Domesday Book of 1086.
The transition of Manchester into a town was realised as the rest of Britain experienced an increase in population, due to trade and commerce, in the early thirteenth century. During this time Manchester was also granted an annual market, making it one of the most important towns in Lancashire. This, along with the arrival of Flemish weavers and cloth makers in the 14th century, marked the beginnings of Manchester as a major player in the textile industry.
Rolling onto the 16th century, Manchester had become a blossoming market town, specialising in the wool trade and with many great civic buildings. Its reputation as a staunch Puritan town meant that it sided with Parliament in their disputes with Charles I, and there is speculation that this marked the origins of the English Civil War.
Not long after this, the cogs began to turn for Manchester’s grand ascent to becoming ‘Cottonopolis’. With enough resources now in place, Manchester established itself not as a manufacturing centre for cotton but for distribution of cotton imported from Liverpool. As trade increased so did population, with migrants arriving from across Britain and immigrants from across the world.
But in the 19th century the greater emphasis on commerce and a laissez-faire attitude towards welfare and standard of living had led not just to industrial wealth, but to slums and poor sanitation, as well as segregation and discrimination towards immigrants.
So on 16 August 1819, 60,000 people took part in an ‘anti-poverty, pro-democracy’ protest. Dressed in their Sunday best and with banners reading ‘Reform, Universal Suffrage, Equal Representation, Love’, the protestors were opposed by the yeomanry with a resulting 18 dead and hundreds injured. The legacy of the ‘Peterloo Massacre’ is great, and is credited with providing impetus for the 1832 Reform Act and the rise of the Chartist movement.
Today, the city is internationally renowned for its football and development in media, music and film. But it still holds on to the weight of its history, and the strong personalities and opinions that formed it.