Friday, August 23, 2019


Bee mosaic in Manchester Town Hall
Image from wikipedia.
Everywhere you go in Manchester, you’ll find bees - carved into buildings, decorating bollards and fountains, printed on flags, bumper stickers and tee-shirts, even tattooed on people’s arms.

Originally the worker bee symbolised the hard-working and productive labourers in the factories, those hives of activity during the industrial revolution. It was officially adopted into Manchester’s coat of arms in 1842.

More recently it has become a symbol of the unity and co-operation of Manchester’s population following the terrorist bombing of Manchester Arena in 2017.

Back when I began researching my family history, it certainly seemed as though Manchester was once a honey pot drawing families in. On almost every branch of the family tree, I discovered at least one family that migrated to Manchester, or the adjacent Salford, during the nineteenth century. On  my father’s side of the family, Thomas Ward's widow, Frances, left Walton le Dale and went to live there when she re-married, along with two of her daughters. Several of her grandchildren also went there to work.

On my mother’s side, Thomas Brown Orton and his family moved to Manchester from Leicestershire, the Bentleys from Yorkshire, the Landers from Dorset, the St Legers and the Hardmans from Ireland, the Holts and the Houghs from Cheshire.

So while my previous posts on "places" have been about towns and villages where one family lived, perhaps for several generations, this post covers many families. They often moved back and forth between Manchester and Salford addresses. Salford has its own distinct history, but in this post I'll consider it as part of Manchester.

Manchester's early history

The city gets its name from Mamucium, the name of a Roman fort built on a small hill in 79 AD to keep out the Celtic Brigantes. It was located close to the River Irwell, which meandered across an otherwise flat plain. After the Romans left in 407 AD, the little town around the fort stagnated until the thirteenth century.

In 1227 it was granted a charter for an annual fair, a sign of its increasing prosperity. By the 14th century a textile industry had grown up under the influence of Flemish weavers. Despite some setbacks due to outbreaks of plague and the English Civil War, the market town and its weaving industry gradually expanded.

Shambles Square, in the medieval quarter
Image from wikipedia

By 1720 Manchester was the most important town in Lancashire, with a grammar school, a collegiate church, a free public library and its own newspaper. The population of about 10,000 people had a single representative in the First Protectorate Parliament under Oliver Cromwell. This seat in Parliament was lost after the restoration of King Charles in 1660.

Manchester and the Industrial Revolution

Beginning in the late 18th century, the industrial revolution brought street-lighting, piped water, and a network of canals to transport coal and other goods. Britain’s first railway station was built in Manchester when the Manchester to Liverpool line opened in 1830.

The station built in 1830

An unprecedented influx of people arrived, drawn by the prospect of work in the building trades, the cloth manufacturing industries or the associated transport and service industries. By 1801 the population had reached 75,000 and thirty years later it had almost doubled again to 142,000. Despite this, the city had no representative in Parliament and most working people had no vote anyway.

Some people made their fortunes in the booming conditions, and used them to build impressive private and public buildings. For others, overcrowding and lack of planning led to poverty and hardship. Outbreaks of infectious diseases such as cholera were able to spread rapidly in the squalid conditions in which many people lived. High taxes and trade restrictions during and after the Napoleonic wars led to a recession and high unemployment. In 1812 food riots occurred in parts of the city.

On 16 August 1819, thousands of protesters gathered in a newly-cleared area known as St Peter’s Field to listen to the radical orator Henry Hunt and express their demand for parliamentary reform. The local magistrates sent the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry to arrest Hunt. They succeeded in capturing him, but in the process a child was killed and a woman was injured.

Map of St Peter's field and surrounds
Image by Jhamez84

The 15th Hussars were then sent to disperse the crowd. They went in on horseback with drawn swords, while other regiments blocked the exits to the square. In the panic and mayhem that followed, up to 18 people were killed and hundreds injured. The event became known as the Peterloo Massacre. It would be another thirteen years before the Reform Act of 1832 gave Manchester two representatives in Parliament, elected by eligible males.

Manchester continued to grow, absorbing the surrounding towns into its municipal borough and connecting to places further afield by rail, road and canal links. It was a place of exciting scientific discoveries, technical innovation, impressive engineering feats, and grandiose buildings, alongside social upheaval and radical political movements. Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx developed some of their political theories after visiting Manchester in the 1840s.

My family in Manchester

John Fielding is the earliest of my ancestors to have lived in Manchester. He was born there in 1778, and it may be that his family had lived there for several generations. Perhaps he was the same John Fielding whose name is on the list of those arrested at the Peterloo demonstration. In 1802 he married Jane Hughes, from Wrexham in Wales. Their daughter Harriet (born 1811) married William Holt, who was born in Cheshire.

Harriet and William’s son  John married Elizabeth Hardman, who had migrated from Ireland with her parents as a small child. And so it goes on. John and Elizabeth’s daughter Hannah and her husband William Hough were both born in Salford, as was William’s father John Hough, but his paternal grandfather was from Cheshire and his mother, Mary Lander, was from Dorset. The brick-making Houghs and the stone-cutting Landers no doubt helped to build parts of Manchester.

In the 1860s the Lancashire cotton famine caused a lot of hardship. But by the 1870’s, when the Orton family moved to Manchester from Leicestershire, conditions had improved, with less severe overcrowding and poverty and a better life-expectancy. Manchester had a reputation for social innovation, with some of the world’s first free public parks and libraries, and early branches of the Co-operative movement, the Trades Union Council and the women’s suffrage movement.

The city fostered both the arts and education and it was not uncommon for working people to be self-educated through their use of libraries and newspapers. Friedrich Engels left Manchester and moved to London in 1870.
Cotton-milling machinery in the
Science and Industry, Museum, Manchester

Manchester reached its height of industrial activity with the opening of the Manchester Ship Canal in 1894. This allowed ocean-going vessels to carry goods right into and out of the heart of the city. The world’s first industrial estate was built on its banks at Trafford Park. By now the population of the city and its suburban area had reached over 500,000.

Manchester in the twentieth century

Even as late as 1913, 65% of all the world’s cotton moved through Manchester. The city’s name was (and still is) synonymous with cotton goods such as sheets and towels. But cotton milling and other textile industries gradually gave way to machinery exports, chemical industries and financial businesses.

The First World War interrupted trade and the Great Depression that followed led to a decline in Manchester’s economy. Its population peaked around 760,000 in the early 1930s, but people had already started to move away.

During the second world war, Manchester and Salford were heavily bombed in what was known as “the blitz”. Children were hastily evacuated to safer areas by the government, with little preparation. My mother and her sisters, after experiencing the trauma of spending their nights in bomb-shelters and seeing their neighbourhood destroyed, were sent away from their parents to Blackpool, on the coast. After some time, the family were re-united when they moved to Crawshawbooth in Rossendale, 20 miles (32 km) from Manchester. They never went back.

Much of Manchester was rebuilt after the war, and it remained the most important city in the region, but it continued to decline economically. When I was growing up in semi-rural Rossendale, Manchester was the place to go to watch a pantomime, to see Father Christmas in one of the department stores or shop for special-occasion clothes, but I never thought of it as a place to live. Even when I returned there as an adult in the 1980s it still seemed a rather grimy, utilitarian place.

Manchester today

In 1996 the centre of the city was bombed by the IRA. Hundreds of people were injured and many retailers went out of business in the aftermath. But the redevelopment associated with the rebuilding, coupled with the Commonwealth Games held in Manchester in 2002, led to a revitalisation of the city. Slums have been cleared, old factories and warehouses re-purposed and public transport modernised.

Manchester's Christmas Markets, a popular annual event

Manchester now advertises itself as a tourist destination, something that would have been considered a joke when I was a child. I was impressed with how much had changed when I returned to Manchester in 2013, and even more so when I revisited it in 2018.

I haven't followed my family tree far enough into the twentieth century to see how many descendants of those original 'immigrants' are still living there. If you recognise any of your own ancestors names here, I'd love to hear from you.

General references used:
Manchester: wikipedia
A brief history of Manchester


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