160 years ago, President Abraham Lincoln sent a letter to the ‘working men of Manchester’, acknowledging their ‘sublime Christian heroism, which has not been surpassed in any age or in any country’. These words are now memorialised at the foot of the Lincoln statue, sculpted by George Grey Bernard, which stands in recently-remodelled Lincoln Square just off Deansgate. The historic link between Manchester and the American North is lesser known, but was a hugely significant moment in the US Civil War.
The Woodhead Tunnels were a collection of three train tunnels located in Woodhead, the Peak District. Built in 1837 and 1853, these tunnels connected Manchester to other cities on the opposite side of the Peaks. At the time of its construction it was the longest tunnel in the world, reaching in at more than 3 miles long (4.8km).
Manchester as a city holds its own colonial past, its construction and industrialisation reliant upon wealth from enslaved labour and the triangular trade. The museum is one of the University of Manchester’s ‘cultural assets’, and thus these narratives both come from and are reflected on the university. The colonial narratives integrated into the city and its institutions are slowly unraveling, but the confrontation of colonial pasts is the first step on a long journey.
“Manchester’s collection is worth almost as much as the Louvre’s” commented French art critic Théophile Thoré regarding the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition of 1857 – the largest art exhibition to be held in the UK and possibly in the world. While the British public milled pleasurably around the Exhibition’s ‘Oriental Court’, soaking in the triumphant collection of trophies seized from British colonies, public revolts against British rule erupted across India. The ‘Indian Mutiny’ was the country’s First War of Independence, resulting in over 100,000 deaths.