Have you ever considered the historical events in Manchester?
Present day Manchester is one of the most advanced and revered cities in the world, breaking new ground in every industry and part of modern life one can think of. But how did it get to be that way? As it happens, Manchester has an incredibly rich and important history dating as far back as the Roman Empire. In fact, the city’s historical significance is the subject of an upcoming film directed by legendary filmmaker Mike Leigh. Peterloo, released on November 2nd in the UK, tells the story of the titular massacre involving voting reform, protestors and government forces. Gaining attention and praise for its relevance both then and to the current climate, it is once again a testament to Manchester’s standing as a historically significant city. Keep on reading as we head on a journey through time, discovering some of the biggest historical events in Manchester.
This structure was formally a Roman fort, built in what is now the Castlefield area of Manchester around the year of AD 79. The fort was used by Roman soldiers, and a number of significant civilian groups began to form and settle around the structure. In Ancient Rome, this was known as a ‘vicus’ and industry workers for the developing civilisation that flourished outside the fort’s walls. The ruins of the fort remained largely as they were up until the onset of the industrial revolution in the late 1700s, at which point the majority of the fort was taken away in order to make room for Manchester’s rapidly expanding landscape and various related developments. The gatehouse, wall and other parts of the structure have since been rebuilt, and are open for public viewing. As far as historical events in Manchester go, if any site tells the story of just how extraordinary Manchester is, it’s Mamucium. This fort stands as a sign of the city’s very beginnings nearly 2,000 years ago. Before Mamucium, there was nothing.
Bonus Fact: The name Manchester originates from Mamucium, which is also known as Mancunium.
One of the most disastrous disease pandemics in history, ‘the black death’ had already reached the UK by 1348-49, wiping out an estimated 50% of the country’s population. It occurred once again from 1361-62, this time killing around 20% of the nation’s people. The plague then cropped up intermittently for the next 300 years, during which time Manchester experienced its most significant outbreak. In 1603, at which point Manchester’s population was thought to be around 4,000, the plague struck and took around a quarter of the population. This amounted to something like 1,000 people, a significant loss even in a city of millions, never mind thousands. Despite this setback, the area recovered fairly quickly. The people of Manchester were resilient even then. Just 34 years later, silk was woven in the city for the first time – an extremely historical event in Manchester and a fact that becomes very significant for the later industrial revolution.
Bonus Fact: According to scientists, the three biggest waves of the plague originated in China.
The English Civil War, which spanned a decade, was one of the most important conflicts in the history of Britain. Essentially a fight for power between King Charles I and Parliament, Manchester saw itself become a crucial touchpoint for the fighting and its eventual outcome. Lancashire as a whole was largely divided in its loyalties, however Manchester declared for Parliament and declined to give its arms over to the Royalist forces. On July 15th 1642, a team of royalist forces led by local aristocrat James Stanley (heir to the Earl of Derby), entered Manchester causing a fight to break out. During this conflict, a man from Levenshulme named Richard Perceval was killed, which is known to be the very first death of the Civil War. Following this, several other battles took place across the streets of the city, one of which saw the town refusing surrender as Stanley and his Royalists fired a canon down Deansgate. Eventually, the Royalists were defeated, which can not only be seen as an extremely historical event in Manchester, but was also a great, morale boosting victory for the parliamentary cause – potentially changing the course of the country forever.
Bonus Fact: James Stanley had also been known as Lord Strange.
Perhaps one of the most notable and historical events in Manchester, the industrial revolution saw the world transition from manual hand-controlled production techniques, to those of machine systems, new chemical techniques and more. Not only did this revolution begin in Great Britain, but one of the leading cities was our very own, with the abundance of mills and factories leading to the dominance of the textiles industry during this period. As a result of this, Great Britain became the no.1 economic power in the world during the 18th century, of which Manchester played a central role. But the impact of Manchester’s ground-breaking work as one of the world’s first industrial cities doesn’t stop there. The industrial revolution was a massive point of change in the history of the human race, changing and impacting every aspect of life for people all over the world. Income, population and standard of living were increased massively due to industrialisation, and it set into motion changes that we are still feeling to this day. Some historians have called the industrial revolution one of the most important events in the history of humanity. That’s pretty important.
Bonus Fact: According to many economic historians, the industrial revolution was the most important event in the history of the human race since animals and plants were domesticated.
As mentioned previously, this infamous massacre is the subject of an upcoming film that is garnering much press attention, such is the lasting impact of the event it depicts. Peterloo, as it was dubbed with tongue firmly in cheek when compared to the Battle of Waterloo, took place at St. Peter’s Field in Manchester on 16th August 1819. The massacre saw a crowd of 60,000 people gathered to protest in regard to voting reform, and hear speak a prominent ‘radical’ named Henry Hunt. The majority of the people attending this gathering were suffering from poor economic conditions as a result of The Napoleonic Wars and subsequent legislation. Government militia were sent to control the situation, who then proceeded to attack the group armed with sabres. In the ensuing chaos, 15 people were killed and hundreds injured. Not only did this event have a massive impact on the discourse surrounding political activism, assembly and reform, but it also affected discussion surrounding class and socio-economic anxieties felt throughout the country. Once again, Manchester found itself at the heart of the UK’s most pressing issues.
Bonus Fact: The film Peterloo will, quite fittingly, have its UK premiere in Manchester in October.
One development that Peterloo led directly to is the formation of the now revered Guardian newspaper, then known as the Manchester Guardian. In response to the Peterloo massacre, a radical paper championing the reformist cause of the protestors had been opened, called the Manchester Observer. After this publication was closed by the police, John Edward Taylor decided to replace it with the Manchester Guardian. This paper was started with the view that it would similarly champion the working classes cause of reform, albeit with much less focus on attitudes and methods considered to be radical. This was reflected in its dismissive view of strike action, as well as its reputation amongst other working class publications as a product of mill-owners. In 1959, the paper changed its name to The Guardian, to match its increasing coverage of nationwide and worldwide current affairs. 2 years later, The Guardian began printing in London for the first time. The publication would go on to become one of the country’s most prominent newspapers, which it remains to this day.
Bonus Fact: The Guardian became a tabloid newspaper for the first time in 2018.
Football is the biggest, most popular and most profitable sport in the world. Manchester is home to two of the most prestigious and successful clubs in Manchester United and Manchester City, who occupied the top 2 spots in the latest Premier League season. Such is Manchester’s standing as the centre of the footballing world in this country and beyond, it should come as no surprise then that Manchester was also the birthplace of professional football way back in 1888. England’s Football League was the very first professional football league, paving the way forward for a sport that would go on to become a cultural and economic powerhouse. After William McGregor, a director at Aston Villa Football Club, had suggested the formation of such a league, it was formally finalised and created during a meeting at the Royal Hotel in Manchester. Prior to this, football was played as an amateur sport in which paying players was uncommon and seen as controversial, and there was little to no plan in regard to a structured league competition. The rest, as they say, is history.
Bonus Fact: The Football League celebrated its 130th birthday this year.
As if civil war and a world-altering revolution weren’t enough, Manchester also found itself as the base for one of the most important scientific discoveries ever in the early 20th century. In 1907, Ernest Rutherford joined the University of Manchester as the Chair of Physics. Rutherford had already earned a Nobel prize, and at the university he surrounded himself with equally respected scientists. During his studies of the atom, Rutherford developed the ‘Rutherford-Geiger detector’, which would enable him to identify individual nuclear particles through the use of electricity. That in itself is an exciting development, but things only got more ground-breaking from there. During experimentation at his lab nearby Oxford Road, Rutherford discovered that an atom’s mass was contained within its nucleus, which is a particle some 1,000 smaller than the atom. He was close to achieving what became known as the ‘splitting’ of the atom. It changed science forever. In 1917, further experiments involving nitrogen atoms led to the first ever artificial nuclear reaction. This discovery would then lead to the eventual development of nuclear power and atomic weapons, which changed the face of World War II and continue to shape conflicts today. As it happens, conflict is a harsh reality that even Manchester couldn’t hide from. A few decades later, war came to the city once again.
Bonus Fact: The ‘Rutherford-Geiger’ counter gets its name from his working with renowned Physicist Hans Geiger.
Manchester’s prominence as a centre for industry and development played its part once again during the height of World War II, as the industrial powerhouse became a major player in war production. Trafford Park in particular was a crucial hub for the country’s war efforts. This saw the city suffer from three substantial bombing raids by the German Luftwaffe, which became collectively known as the Manchester blitz. The worst periods of attack took place between the nights of 22nd-24th December 1940, leading to this also being dubbed the Christmas Blitz. During these nights, 467 tonnes of explosives were dropped on the city, causing unprecedented destruction. Despite this, Manchester stood strong once more. It continued to be a focal point for the country’s war effort, and the city rebuilt itself post war on the way to becoming a modern metropolis for the 21st century.
Bonus Fact: The month after the blitz, Old Trafford football stadium was hit during a raid. This forced Manchester United to seek a temporary home at their neighbour Man City’s Maine Road ground for years during the rebuild.
Fast-forward 62 years, and Manchester had developed in every way imaginable. By 2002, the city had already become a contemporary hub for business, art, culture and opportunity. This was encapsulated by the city’s successful bid to host the Commonwealth Games, an elite sporting event watched and admired from all over the globe. For this grand celebration of sporting glory, Manchester was selected ahead of England’s own capital city London, and the event was the biggest multi-sport event to ever be held in the UK at the time. The success of the games put Manchester on the map as a truly global city, leading to the further economic and urban development that has swept the city in the ensuing years.
Bonus Fact: The 2002 Commonwealth Games were bigger than the 1948 London Olympics.
From a small roman fort made of wood nearly 2,000 years ago, to a global hub for everyone in 2018 – Manchester has come a long way. It has been a long journey. The city has seen countless ups and downs, along with its fair share of moments heroic, villainous and morally ambiguous. It has been at the forefront of countless fields, forging new paths in science, industry, the arts and much more, helping to change the world along the way. Through all of this change, and through all the historical events in Manchester, there has been one constant; Manchester is a great city with a pivotal role to play in both the history and the future of the country and beyond. Here’s to the next 2,000 years.