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The History of Manchester

by David Earnshaw, Nov 2018

The UK’s third largest city and once a real contender for the capital, Manchester is a city with a long, strong and proud history. The first known inhabitants of Manchester were a Celtic tribe known as the Brigantes. They were spread across the north of England, however they had a stronghold on a sandstone outcrop where Manchester cathedral is today.

After the Roman Conquest of Britain, the construction of a fort called Mamucium in 79 AD ensured Roman interests in Deva Victrix (today Chester) and Eboracum (today York) and as protection from the Brigantes. Since this time, central Manchester has been permanently settled.

After the Romans left and the Saxons had been and gone, the Normans arrived in 1066 and the area was laid waste to in the Harrying of the North.

Thomas de la Warre constructed a collegiate church for the parish in 1421, which is today Manchester cathedral. Furthermore, Chethams library, opened in 1653, is the oldest free public reference library in the UK.

During the English Civil War, the Parliamentarians heavily favoured Manchester and Oliver Cromwell granted it the right to elect its own MP.

Manchester really began to develop during the Industrial Revolution, during which time it was primarily concerned with textile manufacturing. It was actually the most productive town for cotton processing for a time and was given the nickname “Cottonopolis”. In places like Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, the term Manchester is still used to describe sheets, pillowcases and towels, amongst other things.

People began flocking to Manchester from Scotland, Ireland, Wales and other part of England to work in the 19th century. By 1835, Manchester was indisputably ‘the first and greatest industrial city in the world’. Engineering firms ended up diversifying into general manufacturing. The chemical industry started producing bleaches and dyes and trade was supported by financial services, such as insurance and banking.

During the Second World War, Manchester was mobilised considerably and much of its industry was changed into arms manufacturing. This meant that it was heavily targeted by the Luftwaffe. The largest of these was called the ‘Christmas blitz’ and took place in late December of 1940. Around 474 tonnes and 37,000 bombs were dropped on the city and a large portion of the historic city centre was damaged, including Manchester cathedral, for which the restoration took 20 years.

Since the turn of the 21st century, Manchester has been regarded by most as the ‘second city of the United Kingdom’ and its recent development has probably secured it this unofficial title.