Manchester was a small market town until the late 18th century and the start of the Industrial Revolution. Cotton was imported through the port of Liverpool, which connected to Manchester by the River Irwell & Mersey, thus Manchester developed as the distribution centre for raw cotton and became a market place for the products of this growing textile industry.
Bleach works, textile print works, engineering workshops, foundries supported the cotton industry.
1830 saw the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, the world’s first steam passenger train.
As a consequence the population exploded in the early to mid 1800’s and was heavily populated with migrant workers, young men and women who poured in from the countryside to find work in the new factories and mills. Large numbers came from Ireland, especially after the great famine of the 1840’s.
Friedrich Engels was a German philosopher, revolutionary socialist (he developed Marxism with Karl Marx) and historian; his father owned large textile factories in Salford – hence his journey to Manchester.
From Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working-Class in England in 1844 ( 1845)
‘I will now give a description of the working-class districts of Manchester. The first of them is the Old Town, which lies between the northern limit of the commercial quarter and the River Irk. Here even the better streets, such as Todd Street, Long Millgate, Withy Grove and Shudehill, are narrow and tortuous. The houses are dirty, old and tumble-down. The side streets have been built in a disgraceful fashion. If one enters the district near the ‘Old Church’ and goes down Long Millgate, one sees immediately on the right-hand side a row of antiquated houses where not a single front wall is standing upright. This is a remnant of the old Manchester of the days before the town became industrialised. The original inhabitants and their children have left for better houses in other districts, while the houses in Long Millgate, which no longer satisfied them, were left to a tribe of workers containing a strong Irish element. Here one is really and truly in a district which is quite obviously given over entirely to the working classes, because even the shopkeepers and the publicans of Long Millgate make no effort to give their establishments a semblance of cleanliness. The condition of this street may be deplorable, but it is by no means as bad as the alleys and courts which lie behind it, and which can be approached only by covered passages so narrow that two people cannot pass. Anyone who has never visited these courts and alleys can have no idea of the fantastic way in which the houses have been packed together in disorderly confusion in impudent defiance of all reasonable principles of town planning. And the fault lies not merely in the survival of old property from earlier periods in Manchester’s history. Only in quite modem times has the policy of cramming as many houses as possible on to such space as was not utilised in earlier periods reached its climax. The result is that today not an inch of space remains between the houses and any further building is now physically impossible.…’