ABOVE: Incredibly, Manchester's magnificent Victorian Town Hall was very nearly
demolished for redevelopment after the Second World War.
BELOW: The world's first passenger railway station at Liverpool Road. Opened by
the Duke of Wellington in 1830.
ABOVE: a park close to the city's universities.
updated on: December 12, 2003
Manchester, which is in the north-west of England, has had a long and interesting
In 79 AD, the Romans recognised the srategic value of Manchester's location and
stayed for more than three centuries. Many of the main roads into the city still
follow routes that were established at that time.
During the English Civil War, Manchester was one of the few towns in Lancashire
to support Parliament against King Charles I.
The city saw incredible growth in the first half of the 1800's, when it became
the world's first industrialised city and a centre for the cotton industry, engineering
A revolution in transport began with canals, but soon Manchester was also home
to the first-ever passenger railway station. Later, despite being a long way inland,
it became a shipping port. This was thanks to another great feat of engineering:
the Manchester Ship Canal.
However, it was a city of contradictions. There was huge wealth and civic pride,
but conditions for working people in the city during the 19th Century were terrible,
with an average life expectancy of just 20 years. Here
is an account from 1844.
Out of this, grew a reputation for liberalism and radicalism: the Co-op movement,
vegetarianism, trades unions and the fight to give women the vote.
The climate and Lancashire's steep streams and soft water, made the area ideal
for the spinning and weaving of cotton. At the beginning of the 20th Century,
more than 80% of the World's cotton trade was controlled from the Royal Exchange
building in Manchester.
The second half of the twentieth century saw the end of the cotton industry and
a huge decline in manufacturing. However, financial and legal businesses remained
strong and electronics and high-tech industries developed.
Today, Manchester is a thriving centre for business and education and has seen
a huge amount of development since the early-1980s, including a new tram system
and venues such as the Manchester Arena and GMEX (the former railway station).
It has one of largest student populations in Europe, which helps fuel the diverse
night life, and is England's second city (although Birmingham would dispute that
Manchester has a long history of welcoming people from all over the world, regardless
of their race, religion or sexuality and, these days, has a rich mixture of different
cultures, including Jewish, Irish, Black, South Asian and the largest Chinese
population outside of London.
There are still lots of signs of Manchester's industrial past: particularly the
canals, mills and warehouses. Many of these were derelict for years, but are now
being converted to other uses as part of the regeneration that has happened across
Britain over the past two decades.
In fact, some of the mills in Ancoats are so significant that the area was named
a World Heritage Site recently, putting it on an equal footing with the pyramids!