Manchester is relatively new city, but it already had a long history before it gained a charter and its history traces back almost two millennia. The first recorded settlement of Manchester began in Roman times, when General Julius Agricola, marching northwards with conquest in mind, built a fort in what he considered a good defensible position just north of the present day city. However, it was not until the 18th century that this hitherto remote and inconspicuous little medieval township sprang into the forefront of world attention, and not until the mid-19th century that it became a city. Actually, it was the neighbouring City of Salford, located immediately opposite across the River Irwell, that dominated the region, Manchester was at that time little more than an outlying suburb. In fact, the Salford Hundred, of which the city was its administrative hub, covered all lands between the River Ribble to the north and the Mersey to the south, so important and valuable a possession that to this day the sovereign owns and bears the title of Lord of the Manor of Salford. Not until the 19th century, after many protests and petitions to parliament, notably by the Chartists, did Manchester gain the status of a city.
During the Industrial Revolution the powerhouse that was Manchester became the hub of a wide network of many small Lancashire townships –
little Manchesters as they were sometimes known – towns that serviced the city’s massive cotton industry. Surrounding County Borough townships like Blackburn, Burnley, Bolton, Wigan, Salford, Oldham and Rochdale sent their woven and spun produce to the Royal Exchange in Manchester and from thence to the world via the newly created Manchester Ship Canal, and received raw materials which were distributed out from the city and its well established system of canals and railways. Other related crafts such as dyeing, fulling and every possible aspect of the textile industry cause Manchester to be designated
Cottonopolis; where ‘King Cotton’ ruled. The Manchester Ship Canal saw goods arriving from all over the world into its large Manchester Docks complex, (actually in Salford) now reinvigorated as Salford Quays. Steam power drove the Victorian city, with water from the many local rivers like the Irwell, Medlock, Irk and Tame, and coal from Worsley via the Duke of Egerton’s Bridgewater Canal to Castlefield, or other coal pits around Wigan. A network of newly cut and navigable canals enabled the efficient transportation of raw materials and manufactured goods right into the heart of the city. Even today, Manchester is marked by its many fine surviving warehouses (now mostly resurrected as hotels and executive apartments) and mills (now frequently relegated to small industrial units). It held onto its reputation as the prime source of world textiles until its decline in the 1950s, when cheaper foreign import of cotton from India sounded the death knell for the region’s pre-eminence.
Manchester skyline on a dull December morning showing the Town Hall and Extension
In the 1970s, the concept of Greater Manchester was born – a still controversial grouping of 8 boroughs and 2 cities, which were subsumed into one large administrative conurbation, the Metropolitan County of Greater Manchester. Manchester and Salford already existed as cities in their own right. Two other boroughs, Tameside and Trafford, were newly created (again, quite controversially) for the purpose, while other former County Boroughs like Bolton, Bury, Oldham, Wigan and Rochdale (in Lancashire) and Stockport (in Cheshire) lost their administrative independence to a large degree to the new Metropolitan County. These Metropolitan Boroughs are connected by the Manchester Orbital Motorway, the M60, as well as the ever more extensive Metrolink Tram System and two major mainline railway stations. Internationally, Manchester connects to the rest of the world by a major Airport. This fabricated
county, paradoxically existing still in name but with less than intended powers and authority, still produces more than half of Britain’s manufactured goods and consumables, though manufacturing continues its steady decline. The Greater Manchester conurbation is a big place. While some 2½ million people live within its actual boundaries, over 7 million others live in the wider region, making it second only to London in Great Britain – Manchester still vies with Birmingham for the title of England Second City! For 11 million people living within 50 miles of the City of Manchester, it is the place where they come to work, or to shop or to visit the many attractions and entertainments which only a large dynamic city such as this could hope to offer.
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