• Mariel Lettier

Manchester and the bees: A little bit of history

In our last article, we covered our impressions of this captivating city. This time around, we’ll be sharing bits and pieces of history and fun facts that enthralled us.

1. The Peterloo Massacre

Did you know the Peterloo Massacre took place in Manchester in 1819 over parliamentary representation reform? Well, on August 16th, around 60,000 working-class people gathered in St. Peter’s Field to peacefully protest, demanding political representation. At that time, only deep-pocket landowners had a right to vote, not to mention vote casting at the time was public. However, the Manchester magistrates were not very happy about the protest and had the Yeomanry–a paramilitary force–go down on the crowd to arrest the speakers, killing many in their wake. This little known event has been considered a major stepping stone for ordinary people getting the vote.

2. Cottonopolis

Did you know Manchester was known as Cottonopolis in the 19th century? The city was the center of the cotton industry, since it possessed all the right qualities: the humidity was perfect for spinning yarn, the Lancashire steep hills provided power for the mills and water for washing and bleaching, and they had great access to the west coast, which made it easy to import the raw material and export the finished product. Production boomed and accounted for half the cotton exports in the UK. Things started going downhill during the American Civil War, however, as the raw material was harder to get. The British Empire could still rely on its other colonies, but, eventually, with cheaper labor and more modern methods elsewhere in the world, Cottonopolis started dying out.

3. The worker bee

Did you know the worker bee is the symbol of the city? The worker bee is embedded in each and every corner of the city and trying to spot all of them is a journey on its own (they’re on trash bins, in the Town Hall, on murals, and countless other spots). The symbol can be traced back to the times of Cottonopolis, when the textile workers were known for being quite the busy bees. It is part of the coat of arms, which was given to Manchester in 1842. More recently, the symbol gained strength as a sign of unity after the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing.

4. A stand against slavery

Did you know Manchester took a stand against slavery? As I mentioned before, the American Civil War took its toll on Manchester’s cotton industry. Well, it wasn’t just the typical complications of importing from a war zone but the fact that Manchester stood by Lincoln’s cotton embargo–which meant they would not receive cotton from slave plantations. Even when they were struggling due to a lack of cotton that put many out of work, the workers themselves agreed to keep upholding the embargo. This was an enormous sacrifice that basically cost them their booming economy. In 1919, a statue of Lincoln was unveiled in the city that is currently housed in a square also in his honor.

5. Suffragettes

Did you know the suffragette movement was born in Manchester? We have Emmeline Pankhurst to thank for that. She founded the Women’s Franchise League and the Women’s Social and Political Union, paving the road for what was to come. The People’s History Museum had a fun and educational board game that went through the history of the fight for women’s vote.

6. The Haçienda

Did you know Manchester housed one of the biggest nightclubs (and drug havens) in British history? The Haçienda opened in 1982 and was shut down in 1997, but it had a remarkable run in those 25 years. The Smiths, New Order, Blur and Madonna all performed there. The club was popular not just for its good music, but also for the easy access to drugs. A lot of gang-related violence stemmed from this and it was actually shut down due to a drug-related death and several shootings (even though the club had actually gone bankrupt a few years before that). The building was sadly demolished in 2002 and an apartment building stands in its place.

7. The rebirth of Manchester

"Global Resistance Manchester" banner

As you can see, Manchester has gone through a lot over the years. The city could have gone under and never come up, but over the last couple of decades, it has undergone significant changes and renovations. The Commonwealth Games were held there in 2002, two large shopping complexes opened in 2000, the People’s History Museum was renovated, and an indoor ski center opened in 2007. Of course, there is also the constant of great music, the most melancholy-infused soundtrack to a city that bleeds, revolts and reinvents itself time and time again.

Manchester was not what we expected. Or it was, but also so much more. We hope we have, at least to some extent, succeeded in awakening some curiosity about the city in you and we'll be back soon with a few notes on what we did and saw in the city of the working bees.

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