In 1538, John Leland described Manchester as ‘the fairest, best buildied, quikkest and most populus Tounne of al Lancastreshire’.
By 1844, the language may have changed but the sentiment was still the same when Benjamin Disraeli said it was ‘the most wonderful city of modern times’.
And somewhat more recently, Ian Brown memorably proclaimed we’ve got ‘everything except a beach’.
The city has had its fair share of criticism too, with such esteemed cultural commentators as Jeremy Clarkson and Carlos Tevez sticking the boot in. But if you can bring yourself to put the lucid analyses of such prized national treasures to one side, then read on to find out what it is that makes Manchester the pride of the planet…
Manchester has made a frankly breath-taking list of contributions to human progress, from science and technology to politics and the arts.
Manchester was the world’s first industrial city, emerging as the centre of the global textile trade in the 18th century. Quite literally a revolutionary invention, the ‘Spinning Jenny’ was actually devised in Blackburn, and the ‘Spinning Mule’ was invented in Bolton, but Manchester itself was the engine driving England’s transformation from pastoral society to industrial superpower.
Partly as a consequence of the city’s rapid industrialisation, and informed by the trauma of the Peterloo Massacre, Manchester also became a hotbed of radical political thought and activism, with bearded German duo Marx and Engels famously meeting for regular chats at Chetham’s Library in the 1840s, where the ideas at the centre of their seminal work, The Communist Manifesto, began to take shape.
In the 20th century, Manchester’s spirit of innovation, radicalism and creativity continued to define the city, once again placing it at the centre of some of the most important cultural and technological developments of the era.
We figured out how to split the atom, we invented the computer, and we hosted what’s been described as one of the most influential gigs of all time, when The Sex Pistols played at the Free Trade Hall in 1976.
There were only around 40 people at that momentous Sex Pistols gig, but within that intimate crowd were a host of future stars. Morrissey was there, along with the guys that went on to form the Buzzcocks, the future members of Joy Division, plus Mark E Smith, who later started a band called The Fall.
These are the people that put Manchester on the musical map, paving the way for the likes of The Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets and The Stone Roses, who defined the Madchester sound and attitude in the 80s. In the 90s, Burnage boys Oasis took the world by storm, and I seem to remember Take That didn’t do too badly either.
There are so many groundbreaking, influential acts hailing from Manchester, it’s pointless trying to list them all. One thing that’s clear, though, is Manchester’s contribution to electronic music – from techno trailblazers 808 State and A Guy Called Gerald to experimental acts like Autechre and Mr Scruff. And of course The Chemical Brothers formed whilst studying and raving in Manchester back in the day.
Today, Manchester’s music scene continues to thrive. Local producers like Dub Phizix are making some of the UK’s most forward-thinking bass music, bands like Wu Lfy and Everything Everything are getting the critics excited, and there are endlessly diverse, amazing underground scenes to explore. Whatever sounds you’re into, Manchester will deliver.
As a Mancunian, if you’ve done much travelling, you’ve probably noticed that whichever corner of the world you decide to visit, when you say you’re from Manchester the conversation will immediately turn to football.
A few years ago, the response was usually something like “AH! Manchester United!” These days, it’s more likely to be “OH! So are you a red or a blue?” The legendary teams assembled by Sir Matt and Sir Alex at Old Trafford had already made Manchester synonymous with football.
Now, with City’s new-found wealth and silverware, Manchester is surely the world’s undisputed capital of football. Good luck finding this much quality, combined with this level of rivalry and passion, in any other city worldwide.
The Media Industry
Manchester’s media, creative and digital industries are without doubt some of the city’s best assets. We’re home to the world’s longest-running TV soap, the quintessentially Mancunian Coronation Street, whilst shows like Shameless and Ideal simply couldn’t have been made anywhere else. The BBC’s relocation to Media City in Salford Quays is an endorsement of the talent that exists beyond the M25, and a host of Hollywood directors have chosen to film in Manchester recently too.
Beyond the TV and film industries, Manchester’s digital sector is booming, with tonnes of small agencies and plenty of big organisations basing themselves here. Converted industrial spaces in the Northern Quarter and beyond make for some great creative workspaces, and there’s an influx of people moving to Manchester to get in on the action.
Manchester’s cultural diversity is what the city’s all about. It’s a place where you’re free to be yourself, but also a place built on strong communities with shared backgrounds and beliefs. We’ve got Chinatown, the Curry Mile and the Caribbean Carnival. We’ve got the Gay Village. We’ve got a massive student population. The skies may be grey most of the time, but the city’s people and places make for a vibrant mix. Whoever you are, wherever you’re from, Manchester is somewhere you can belong.
Thanks to Futureworks School of Media in Manchester – for providing this post. Visit their site to find out more about their animation diploma and other practical media courses.
Photo courtesy of Steven Cavanagh, with thanks.