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The Openshaw District, Manchester

Openshaw was incorporated into the City of Manchester in 1890. Its area lies between Ashton Old Road and Gorton and is known to date back to 1282 when it was part of the Salford Hundred and in the ownership of the Lord of the Manor of Manchester, Robert Grelley. Its name comes from the old English "Opinschawe" which means an open wood or coppice - by the 14th century it had become known by the nam e "Oponshaghe" . The wood had been the private hunting domain of the Grelleys and was almost certainly cleared in the early 17th century to make room for farmland or pasture or possibly to provide timber for the growing English navy.
Since medieval times a cottage industry had existed within the district in dyeing and bleaching, but, the end of the 18th century, lying so close as it does to the new Ashton Canal, it was drawn into some of the worst excesses of the Industrial Revolution and swallowed up by its crawling squalor and urbanisation. Its population expanded more than thirty-fold during the 19th century as it required workers for the Armstrong Whitworth Ordinance Factory, and the massive Beyer Peacock railway building yards that were being set up in the district - these latter came to be known as the "Gorton Tank".
It was not therefore coincidental that Socialism and Trades Unionism saw a fertile breeding ground in the area, and in 1910 the Openshaw Socialists were formed, with Kier Hardie (founder of the Labour Party) as their inaugural guest speaker. Annie Lee went on to become Manchester's first socialist woman alderman in 1936, having been secretary of the Openshaw Independent Labour Party since its earliest days in the 1890s.
The ordinance works closed down after the end of the First World War, and later the railway yards were closed and as a result, today's Openshaw has a population only a fraction of that a century ago. Nowadays there is very little industry in the district, and fortunately, Openshaw falls within the East Manchester Regeneration Scheme and has already begun to see new business moving into the area as a result.

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We have made reference to several sources in compiling this web page, but must make special mention of the Breedon Books' "Illustrated History of Manchester's Suburbs" by Glynis Cooper, of which we made particular use. Information about this book can be found on our Books About Manchester webpage.

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This page last updated 14 Nov 11.