The history of Manchester encompasses its change from a minor Lancastrian township into the pre-eminent industrial metropolis of the United Kingdom and the world. Manchester began expanding “at an astonishing rate” around the turn of the 19th century as part of a process of unplanned urbanisation brought on by a boom in textile manufacture during the Industrial Revolution.The transformation took little more than a century.
This film is an amazing visual record of everyday life in Britain at the beginning of the twentieth century.
At the beginning of the 19th century, Manchester was still governed by a court leet on the medieval model, and a Boroughreeve was responsible for law and order during the daylight hours. The Manchester and Salford Police Act of 1792 created Police Commissioners, whose job was to provide a night-watch. The commissioners were also given responsibility for road-building, street cleaning, street lighting, and the maintenance of fire engines.
The end of the 18th century saw the first serious recession in the textile trade. There were food riots in 1797, and soup kitchens were established in 1799. Manchester was the scene of the Blanketeeragitation in 1817. Popular unrest was paralleled by discontent with Manchester’s lack of representation at Westminster, and the town quickly became a centre of radical agitation.
Protest turned to bloodshed in the summer of 1819. A meeting was held in St Peter’s Field on 16 August to demonstrate for parliamentary reform. It was addressed by Henry Hunt, a powerful speaker known as Orator Hunt. Local magistrates, fearful of the large crowd estimated at 60,000–80,000, ordered volunteer cavalry from the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry to clear a way through the crowd to arrest Hunt and the platform party. The Yeomanry were armed with sabres and some reports say that many of them were drunk. They lost control and started to strike out at members of the crowd. The magistrates, believing that the Yeomanry were under attack, then ordered the 15th Hussars to disperse the crowd, which they did by charging into the mass of men, women and children, sabres drawn. These events resulted in the deaths of fifteen people and over six hundred injured. The name “Peterloo” was coined immediately by the radical Manchester Observer, combining the name of the meeting place, St Peter’s Field, with the Battle of Waterloo fought four years earlier. One of those who later died from his wounds had been present at Waterloo, and told a friend shortly before his death that he had never been in such danger as at Peterloo: “At Waterloo there was man to man but there it was downright murder.”
The Manchester Guardian, a newspaper with a radical agenda, was established shortly afterwards. In 1832, following the Great Reform Act, Manchester elected its first MPs since the election of 1656. Five candidates, including William Cobbett stood and Liberals Charles Poulett Thomson and Mark Philips were elected. The Great Reform Act led to conditions favourable to municipal incorporation. Manchester became a Municipal Borough in 1837, and what remained of the manorial rights were later purchased by the town council.