Manchester then and now



Manchester occupies a hallowed place in the history of England because of its key role in the Industrial Revolution. Today, it is also known as a centre of the arts, media, commerce and higher education. There are some who consider Manchester to be England's second city, but Birmingham can also lay claim to that distinction.

At present, Manchester is being considered by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for possible inclusion as a World Heritage Site. UNESCO has taken note of Manchester's network of canals and mills, important contributors to the city's development during the 19th century Industrial Revolution.

The history of Manchester can be traced back to Roman times when it was first settled. General Gnaeus Julius Agricola established a fort in old Manchester to serve as a trading and staging post between York and Chester. During the Dark Ages, troops abandoned the fort and the entire area went undeveloped for some time as settlement shifted to other areas, particularly near the Irwell and Irk rivers. Later on, manorial lord Thomas De La Warre, who was also a priest, gave the site to the church and in 1422, the fortified manor house was turned into the College of Priests, which is now Chetham's School of Music. The Collegiate Church was constructed later on. It is actually  today's Manchester Cathedral.

In 1301, the city turned into a market town upon receiving its Charter. This was followed by a strong migration of Flemish settlers who further propelled the growth of Manchester through their thriving new cotton and textile industry. Manchester soon became the premiere industrial centre of Lancashire.

By the 19th century, Manchester was known as 'Cottonopolis' in honour of its primary produce and in recognition of its stature as the centre of the region's prosperous cotton industry. Manchester made great strides in the area of infrastructure with the construction of the city's world renowned canal system and the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. Shortly thereafter, Manchester evolved into the leading industrial centre in the world and its first industrial society.

The evolution of Manchester as an industrial society was fast and revolutionary as new industrial processes, new forms of labour organization and new ways of thinking originated from the city and captured the world's attention. The 'Manchester School', which promoted free trade and laissez-faire, was emulated in other places. Entrepreneurs and industrialists from all over Europe trekked to Manchester to study the way they did things. "What Manchester does today, the rest of the world does tomorrow," became a popular saying. It was also during this time that Manchester experienced a great surge in population with the immigration of Lancastarians, Jews and the Irish.

In the late 19th century, turmoil struck Manchester as the working and non-titled classes rebelled against the ruling class, culminating with the events known as 'Peterloo' on St. Peter's Field on August 16, 1819. Manchester has since played a prominent role in the labour movement. It hosted the first Trade Union Congress in June 1868 and is recognized as the cradle of the Labour party and the Suffragette Movement.

The last quarter of the 19th century marked Manchester's golden age. During this period, construction was completed on many of the city's great architectural landmarks, including its town hall and the Manchester Ship Canal, which allowed foreign ships to sail straight to the Port of Manchester Docks. When the docks of the Port of Manchester closed in the seventies, there was massive unemployment in the area.

The establishment of Trafford Park in Stretford, the world's first industrial estate, further stamped the city's stature as an industrial powerhouse. However, its place in the world of industry took a hit with the depression that followed the war and with the development of new structures and processes that supplanted the old industries such as textile manufacturing, once the city's bread and butter industry.

By World War II, Manchester had shifted to heavy industrial construction. It hosted the offices and production plant of Avro, the manufacturer of aircraft for the RAF, most notable of which was the popular Avro Lancaster bomber. The war saw many Luftwaffe attacks on Manchester, including the infamous 1941 Christmas Blitz, which resulted in massive damage throughout the city, including the historic Cathedral.

Manchester formally split from Lancashire county in 1974 with the creation of the Borough of Manchester.

In recent history, Manchester made worldwide news when an IRA bomb exploded in the city centre on June 15, 1996. It marked the largest bomb to ever be detonated in British soil, resulting in more than 200 injuries and, thankfully, no deaths. Most of the damage involved nearby buildings and other structures.

Subsequent reconstruction efforts have changed the city landscape significantly as several historic sections of the city were either demolished or modernized with glass and steel. The fully-renovated Manchester Arndale opened in September 2006 and captured the title of Europe's biggest city centre shopping mall.

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