8 Reasons to Love Historic Manchester

Famed for its industrial output, pioneering political movements and musical exports, Manchester’s rich heritage is of national importance, recognised worldwide.

Here we celebrate 8 places that tell the story of Manchester’s history.

1. Manchester was commended by a US President

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Abraham Lincoln Statue, Manchester, via Wiki commons

You may wonder how a 4 metre high statue of ‘Honest Abe’ Lincoln found its way to Brazennoze Street in central Manchester. The origins of the statue go back to the 19th century, when Manchester was one of the biggest cotton producers in the world. During the 1860s, the city elected to boycott cotton that was coming in from the Southern States, in protest of slave labour. The decision was made despite the effect that would clearly have on the local economy. President Abraham Lincoln wrote to the people of Manchester, commending their stance, he wrote It is indeed an energetic and re-inspiring assurance of the inherent truth and of the ultimate and universal triumph of justice, humanity and freedom.

2. The oldest surviving passenger railway station in the world

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Former Liverpool Road Station, Manchester © Historic England

Opening in 1830, the Liverpool Manchester line was one of the world’s first intercity railways. The line was built by George Stephenson with passenger rail by steam locomotives as its priority. The opening ceremony was attended by the Prime Minister, the Duke of Wellington. Unfortunately, this was also the site of what is considered to be the first widely reported railway fatality – William Huskisson, MP for Liverpool was struck on the inaugural trip and later died from his injuries.

The former Liverpool Road Station is now part of the Museum of Science and Industry and is Grade I listed.

3. The Medieval Quarter

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Manchester Cathedral (1973) © Historic England

The earliest known incarnation of Manchester was built by the Romans in the first century AD, then called Mamucium. However, it was William the Conqueror’s gift of the land to a favoured knight in the 11th century that triggered the growth of a more significant settlement. Few remaining buildings, including Manchester Cathedral (Grade 1 listed) and Chetham’s Library, evidence medieval beginnings. On 8th October 1787, the collegiate church (now Manchester Cathedral) played host to the first public speech by the Committee for the Abolition of Slave Trade.

4. The first free public library in the world

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Interior of Chetham’s Library, Manchester. Photograph by Mike Peel via Wiki commons.

Founded in 1653, Chetham’s Library has been in continuous use as a free public library for over 350 years. It houses over 100,000 books, many of them rare and printed before 1850, in a medieval building first built to accommodate a college of priests. The Grade I listed building is one of many places in Manchester associated with political movements. Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels researched at the library in the Summer of 1845, influencing their later work on The Communist Manifesto.

5. The home of the Suffragettes

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The Pankhurst Centre, Manchester via Wiki commons.

In 1903, Emmeline Pankhurst founded the Women’s Social and Political Union. The Pankhurst family on Nelson street hosted the first meeting of the group, with the aim to recruit working class women into the struggle for the vote. It is now listed Grade II* and is used as a museum and women’s centre.

6. A major scientific breakthrough

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Ernest Rutherford and Hans Geiger seated with physics apparatus on display. Copyright of the University of Manchester.

In 1907, Ernest Rutherford, a New Zealand Physicist took over as chair of physics at the University of Manchester. In 1911, Rutherford and his team of world class scientists discovered the nuclear atom, and in 1917 they split the atom. This scientific breakthrough eventually led to the advent of atomic energy and nuclear power. The Grade II listed building that Rutherford worked in was renamed “The Rutherford Building” in 2006.

7. Pubs, glorious pubs

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Peveril of the Peak image © Copyright Trevor Harris and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence

An important part of social and music history, many of Manchester’s historic pubs are also listed. The Grade II Listed Circus Tavern on Portland Street dates back to the early 18th century and is reputed to be the smallest pub in Manchester. The strikingly tile clad façade of C19 Peveril on the Peak (also Grade II listed) stands out on the corner of Chepstow and Bridgewater Street.

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Image of Circus Tavern © Copyright David Dixon and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Check out our free Manchester pub walk for more architectural gems.

8. Democracy and Peterloo

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The People’s History Museum, via Wiki commons.

On the 16th August 1819, a great tragedy led to an important step along the road to Democracy in Britain. In what is now St Peter’s Square, a crowd of 60,000 peaceful pro-democracy and anti-poverty protestors gathered. Local magistrates called on the dispersal of the crowd, and cavalry charged in on horseback, armed with cutlasses and clubs, killing 15 and injuring 700 men, women and children. The Peterloo massacre is acknowledged to have influenced ordinary people winning the right to vote. It also resulted in the establishment of the Manchester Guardian (now just the Guardian).

The People’s History Museum (Grade II listed) tells the story of democracy in Britain and the fight for the rights of women, workers and other groups.

Header image: The Wellington Inn, Old Shambles, shown during extensive surrounded building works (1971). You can read some more information about the history and relocation of the Grade II* listed building here.

We found it tough to pick just 8 things, let us know your favourite historic parts of Manchester in the comments.

Further Reading

26 responses to 8 Reasons to Love Historic Manchester

      • Mark C says:

        But it wasnt actually at the Liverpool Road Station that William Huskisson died it was further down the line.

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      • Yes that’s true, Mark. The opening ceremony of the line also took place at the other end, departing from Liverpool

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      • Roger says:

        The image used is not actually Liverpool Road station. It is the equally innovative and important warehouse. The first purpose-built railway warehouse in the world. The station is on the other side of the tracks.

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  1. Darren Spratt says:

    Please can you elaborate on the amazing cover photo of medieval buildings on concrete stilts? Are these buildings still there and if so, where are they? Cheers

    Like

    • Dellie says:

      They are still in Manchester …near Marks and Spencer’s … Behind Exchange Square… they were perfectly and painstakingly moved brick by brick and rebuilt in 1996 after the IRA bomb… one of our family’s favourite places.

      Like

  2. larrymuffin says:

    What is that first photo of a building on concrete stilts in a construction site? I did not know any of this on Manchester, very interesting indeed.

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  3. mefinx says:

    That building is the remarkable Wellington Inn, an Elizabethan pub that has survived the Blitz, the redevelopment of a shopping centre around it (I remember it being encased in corrugated iron at that point, probably contemporary with the picture above), and a serious IRA bomb attack that wrecked the city centre. It is still doing a roaring trade, a couple of minutes walk from Chetham’s library.

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  4. mefinx says:

    Oh where do we start? The beautiful Royal Exchange theatre suspended like a space module inside a vast 19C trading floor? The magnificent neo-Gothic John Rylands Library on Deansgate? The Ford Madox Ford murals in the Town Hall? The gorgeous canopy and tiled railway map at the recently restored Victoria Station? And then there’s the suburbs…

    Yes, I’m proud to be a Mancunian.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Linda says:

    @Darren Spratt- the old Wellington Inn and Sinclair’s Oyster bar were taken down and moved after the IRA bomb in Manchester in the 1990’s and are now in front of the Cathedral -they now sit at right angles to each other.

    I would imagine the picture was taken during earlier redevelopment of the site – the concrete pillars would be to allow digging out of the foundations without damaging the pubs. which at the time were a scheduled monument.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Stacy Cosham says:

    Reblogged this on A Girl from Devon and commented:
    I have strong family connections in Manchester and visit often since early childhood. This list of 8 places is a great place to start exploring this wonderful historic city.

    For a food fix, I recommend Blue Daisy Café on Oldham Street (not far from Piccadilly Gardens)

    Like

  7. Mel & Suan says:

    Wow. Have not thought of Manchester this way. Always thought it was an industrial city with UMIST as the main education draw.

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  8. birchyellow says:

    I’ll add a couple, both grade II* listed:

    Firstly the Midland Hotel, next to the Town Hall, where a certain Mr Rolls and Mr Royce met for the first time in 1904. A glorious baroque confection in glazed terracotta and pink and brown granite.

    Second, the Watts Warehouse (now the Britannia Hotel) which has a war memorial in the entrance lobby with a fine bronze statue, “The Sentry”, by Charles Sargeant Jagger. Apparently the warehouse workers christened this memorial (or at least part of it) “St Bonus” since some of their supplementary pay was appropriated to pay for it! the building itself uses a different architectural style on each of its five floors.

    Like

  9. Soo Smith says:

    The Police Museum on Newton street Is great for a visit too! There is a surviving ‘back to back’ house hidden away behind Lever street but sadly you can’t go in for a look and my final one is get a glimpse of ye olde Manchester by going down the stairs and under the Cathedral visitors centre 😊

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  10. Reg Costello says:

    When the Romans arrived they found that the best site for a fortress, Hunt’s Bank where the Irk meets the Irwell, was already taken by the ‘Brigantes’. Quite wisely, they chose not to evict them but set up shop in Castlefield instead at the other end of what became Deansgate. And it was at the Hunt’s Bank end that Manchester began to grow. There is also a claim to very early example of capitalism in that vicinity as the burgesses bought out their feudal duties to become full-time cloth merchants, but that gets a bit technical. Then of course, the first skirmish of the Civil War happened there too.

    Like

  11. ayates12 says:

    The abolitionist speech you’re referring to in Manchester Cathedral took place in 1787, not 1878 – by which point the slave trade had been abolished for decades.

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