Monday, February 22, 2010


Royal Exchange, Manchester, EnglandThe chief manufacturing city of England has not a striking effect upon the visitor as he approaches it. It is scattered over a broad surface upon a gently undulating plain, and its suburbs straggle out into the country villages, which it is steadily absorbing in its rapid growth; the Irwell passes in a winding course through the city, receiving a couple of tributaries; this river divides Manchester from Salford, but a dozen bridges unite them. No city in England has had such rapid growth as Manchester in this century; it has increased from about seventy thousand people at the beginning of the century to over half a million now; and this is all the effect of the development of manufacturing industry. Yet Manchester is one of the oldest towns in England, for there was a Roman camp at Mancunium, as the C├Žsars called it, in the first century of the Christian era; and we are also told that in the days when giants lived in England it was the scene of a terrific combat between Sir Launcelot of the Lake and the giant Tarquin. A ballad tells the story, but it is easier read in prose: Sir Launcelot was travelling near Manchester when he heard that this giant held in durance vile a number of knights—"threescore and four" in all; a damsel conducts him to the giant's castle-gate, "near Manchester, fair town," where a copper basin hung to do duty as a bell; he strikes it so hard as to break it, when out comes the giant ready for the fray; a terrific combat ensues, and the giant, finding that he has met his match, offers to release the captives, provided his adversary is not a certain knight that slew his brother. Unfortunately, it happens that Sir Launcelot is the very same, and the combat is renewed with such vigor that the giant is slain, "to the great contentment of many persons."

The ancient Mancunium was a little camp and city of about twelve acres, partly bounded by a tributary of the Irwell known as the Medlock. A ditch on the land-side was still visible in the last century, and considerable portions of the old Roman walls also remained within two hundred years. Many Roman relics have been discovered in the city, and at Knott Mill, the site of the giant Tarquin's castle, a fragment of the Roman wall is said to be still visible. The town in the early Tudor days had a college, and then a cathedral, and it was besieged in the Civil Wars, though it steadily grew, and in Charles II.'s time it was described as a busy and opulent place; but it had barely six thousand people. Cotton-spinning had then begun, the cotton coming from Cyprus and Smyrna. In 1700 life in Manchester, as described in a local guide-book, was noted by close application to business; the manufacturers were in their warehouses by six in the morning, breakfasted at seven on bowls of porridge and milk, into which masters and apprentices dipped their spoons indiscriminately, and dined at twelve; the ladies went out visiting at two in the afternoon, and attended church at four. Manchester was conservative in the Jacobite rebellion, and raised a regiment for the Pretender, but the royalist forces defeated it, captured the officers, and beheaded them. Manchester politics then were just the opposite of its present Liberal tendencies, and it was Byrom, a Manchester man, who wrote the quaint epigram regarding the Pretender and his friends which has been so often quoted:

"God bless the King—I mean our faith's defender!
God bless (no harm in blessing) the Pretender!
But who Pretender is, or who is King—
God bless us all!—that's quite another thing."

It was the rapid growth of manufacturing industry in Manchester that changed its politics, and it was here that was first conspicuously advocated the free-trade agitation in England which triumphed in the repeal of the Corn Laws, so as to admit food free of duty for the operatives, and in the Reform bill that changed the representation in Parliament. That fine building, the "Free-Trade Hall," is a monument of this agitation in which Manchester took such prominent part. As the city has grown in wealth, so has its architectural appearance improved; its school-and college-buildings are very fine, particularly Owens College, munificently endowed by a leading merchant. The Manchester Cathedral is an ancient building overlooking the Irwell which has had to be renewed in so many parts that it has a comparatively modern aspect. Other English cathedrals are more imposing, but this, "the ould paroch church" spoken of by the ancient chroniclers, is highly prized by the townsfolk; the architecture is Perpendicular and of many dates. Until recently this was the only parish church in Manchester, and consequently all the marriages for the city had to be celebrated there; the number was at times very large, especially at Easter, and not a few tales are told of how, in the confusion, the wrong pairs were joined together, and when the mistake was discovered respliced with little ceremony. It was in this Manchester Cathedral that one rector is said to have generally begun the marriage service by instructing the awaiting crowd to "sort yourselves in the vestry."

Some of the public buildings in Manchester are most sumptuous. The Assize Courts are constructed in rich style, with lofty Pointed roofs and a tall tower, and make one of the finest modern buildings in England. The great hall is a grand apartment, and behind the courts is the prison, near which the Fenians in 1867 made the celebrated rescue of the prisoners from the van for which some of the assailants were hanged and others transported. The Royal Exchange is a massive structure in the Italian style, with a fine portico, dome, and towers; the hall within is said to be probably the largest room in England, having a width of ceiling, without supports, of one hundred and twenty feet. Here on cotton-market days assemble the buyers and sellers from all the towns in Lancashire, and they do an enormous traffic. The new Town-Hall is also a fine building, where the departments of the city government are accommodated, and where they have an apartment dear to every Englishman's heart—"a kitchen capable of preparing a banquet for eight hundred persons." The warehouses of Manchester are famous for their size and solidity, and could Arkwright come back and see what his cotton-spinning machinery has produced, he would be amazed. It was in Manchester that the famous Dr. Dalton, the founder of the atomic theory in chemistry, lived; he was a devout Quaker, like so many of the townspeople, but unfortunately was color-blind; he appeared on one occasion in a scarlet waistcoat, and when taken to task declared it seemed to him a very quiet, unobtrusive color, just like his own coat. Several fine parks grace the suburbs of Manchester, and King Cotton has made this thriving community the second city in England, while for miles along the beautifully shaded roads that lead into the suburbs the opulent merchants and manufacturers have built their ornamental villas.

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