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Key to the City™, Manchester.

A Brief History of Manchester

Castlefield, Manchester
Castlefield, Manchester

The name Manchester originates from the Latin Mamucium, a Roman fort built in the first century and used against the Brigantes - the major Celtic tribe in the area. Fragments of the fort can be seen in Castlefield and people of the city are still known as Mancunians.

Central Manchester has been permanently settled since this time. After the Roman withdrawal around the third century and Saxon conquest, the focus of settlement shifted to the confluence of the Irwell and Irk where Manchester Cathedral is now located, sometime before the arrival of the Normans after 1066.

Thomas de la Warre, lord of the manor, founded and constructed a collegiate church for the parish in 1421. The church is now Manchester Cathedral; the domestic premises of the college house Chetham's School of Music and Chetham's Library.

Manchester Cathedral
Manchester Cathedral

Manchester is mentioned as having a market in 1282. Around the 14th century, Manchester received an influx of Flemish weavers, sometimes credited as the foundation of the region's textile industry. Manchester became an important centre for the manufacture and trade of woollens and linen, and by about 1540, had expanded to become a bustling town. Significant quantities of cotton began to be used after about 1600 and by around 1750 cotton had overtaken wool in importance.

The Bridgewater Canal, Britain's first wholly artificial waterway, was opened in 1761, and extended to the Mersey at Runcorn by 1776. The combination of competition and improved efficiency halved both the cost of coal and transport cost of raw cotton. Manchester became the dominant marketplace for textiles produced in the surrounding towns. In 1781 Richard Arkwright built Manchester's first cotton mill, the start of the 'cottonopolis'.

Corn Exchange, Manchester
Corn Exchange, Manchester

Manchester began expanding at an astonishing rate around the turn of the 19th century as people flocked to the city for work brought on by the Industrial Revolution. Although this brought wealth to the city, it also brought poverty and squalor to a large part of the population.

Trade, and feeding the growing population, required a large transport and distribution infrastructure: the canal system was extended, and Manchester became one end of the world's first intercity passenger railway - the Liverpool and Manchester Railway.

The Manchester Ship Canal was built between 1888 and 1894, in some sections by canalisation of the Rivers Irwell and Mersey, running 36 miles (58 km) from Salford to Eastham Locks on the tidal Mersey. This enabled oceangoing ships to sail right into the Port of Manchester. On the canal's banks, just outside the borough, the world's first industrial estate was created at Trafford Park.

The number of cotton mills in Manchester began to decline in the 1850s and Manchester was surpassed as the largest centre of cotton spinning by Bolton and Oldham. However, this period of decline coincided with the rise of city as the financial centre of the region. Manchester continued to process cotton, and in 1913, 65% of the world's cotton was processed in the area.

New Cathedral Street, Manchester
New Cathedral Street, Manchester

Like many parts of the UK, Manchester was heavily bombed during the Second World War. The biggest raid took place during the "Christmas Blitz" in December 1940 when hundreds were killed and a large part of the historic city centre was destroyed.

Heavy industry, and goods passing through the port of Manchester suffered a downturn from the 1960s with the city at a lowpoint by the 1980s. The 1990s started to see a revival in the city's fortunes, spurred on by the devastating 1996 IRA bombing on Corporation Street. Manchester hosted the XVII Commonwealth Games in 2002 and since then the city centre has undergone extensive regeneration including new hotels, shopping centres, food courts and extensions to the tram network. Manchester can surely now claim to be the second city of the UK.

Last Updated Tuesday 5 May 2020

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