Ribbons of black-tinged smoke curled from scores of Manches- ter’s factory chimneys to stitch ragged quilts that defied the
sun. Shadows collapsed over buildings and
stretched wide fingers across streets bustling
with men unloading wagons piled high with
cotton bales from America, courtesy of the
South’s slave plantations.
Within dozens of mills, the cotton would
be spun into thread and woven into endless
yards of cloth destined for world markets.
Hundreds of human bees in these hives of
industry maintained a disciplined working
cadence as spindles whirred, looms shrieked
and furnaces roared.
Haphazardly scattered around and below
the mills, many of which were built on low
hilltops, lay hovels of the poor. And near many
of these dwellings, stagnant and muddy pools
of water reeked of dung and refuse.
Yet, Manchester was undeniably vibrant;
its political and cultural vitality, twinned with
thriving factories and high employment, had
burnished it into one of England’s favoured
A manufacturing powerhouse that was becoming known by the sobriquet “
Cottonopo-lis”, this town, which would become a city in
1853, was the pack leader among Lancashire’s
French historian Alexis de Tocqueville
(1805–1859) wrote in Journey to England and
Ireland that an “inky” smoke pervaded the
town, and despite being a “foul drain”, indus-
trial Manchester reached out and “touched the
Touch the world it did, offering a panoptic
glimpse of an industrial revolution growing
ever brasher and more demanding, a revolution led by invention and innovation, and fed
by robust stimuli for profit.
Britannia’s relentless quest toward assuming
the mantle of the world’s preeminent economic engine had thrust her into full stride, with
London her financial hub and Manchester an
indispensable industry partner.
Although urban Manchester was a model
of manufacturing ascendance, its outlying
rural vistas sketched portraits of farmhouses,
pastures and river valleys that framed gentle
streams that ran cool and clear. Fields were
In part one of this two-part series,
Bermudian writer James A. Ziral gets
between the words and behind
the lines of Dickens’