Not unlike the rest of the world, the ‘Ban the Bomb’ movement in Britain emerged in the years after the promethean Trinity Test of July 16th, 1945, had brought the world into the nuclear age. The Trinity Test was the first detonation of a nuclear device; it had instantly provoked conflicting universal responses of revulsion, horror, awe, and bewilderment once they had been used to help end the Second World War in the Pacific. In August 1945, these weapons had been used for the annihilation of two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which had amassed a death toll estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands. The terrifying nature of these weapons evoked a sense that nuclear weapons were inherently apocalyptic.
The ‘Ban the Bomb’ movement was a direct challenge to the existence of such weapons and adapted to the changing technologies and doctrines of the ensuing Cold War between the United States and Soviet Union that followed the end of the war. Among the major actors of the Cold War was Britain, whose nuclear research predated and had added substantial scientific knowledge to the U.S. Manhattan Project. Britain pursued nuclear weapons independently from the U.S., gaining atomic weapons in 1952 and the far more destructive hydrogen bomb in 1957. Although Britain established itself as a member of an exclusive international nuclear club, there were significant, albeit, small movements in favour of nuclear disarmament at home.
The most recognizable organization committed to nuclear disarmament that emerged in Britain was the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), founded in 1957 and chaired by Bertrand Russell. The CND drew substantial support from Protestant churches, particularly from Methodists and churches committed to pacifism. At the time, Manchester was among the largest industrial centres in Britain and to the dissatisfaction of Parliament independently minded. The city became a major hub for the movement, partly owing to the strong Methodist presence which made it a CND stronghold in the North. Although London was the CND’s birthplace, the movement in Manchester gained more support from civic authorities. In the early 1950s, when Parliament devised evacuation and bomb shelter procedures that were inspired by the Blitz, Manchester and Sheffield declared themselves ‘nuclear-free zones’, refusing to participate in civil defence practices that seemed to legitimise the existence of nuclear weapons.
Manchester was ultimately unwilling to participate in civil defence practices, which many believed would increase rather than decrease the likelihood of a nuclear apocalypse. Parliamentary planning for nuclear war also involved the separation of families, military occupation, and the national relocation of doctors and nurses. Mancunium demonstrations even opposed Labour Party policies in 1964, when Harold Wilson sought greater nuclear independence from the U.S through Britain’s Trident defence system. Manchester’s rejection of civil defence practices added substantial weight to the CND’s moral opposition to nuclear weapons. The CND itself, however, remained only a small movement and its moral objections lost their potency as it became obvious every year that these weapons were unlikely to ever be used.