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Cottonopolis during the early 19th century
Cottonopolis is a name given to the city of Manchestermarker, in Englandmarker. First bestowed during the 19th century, it denotes a metropolis of cotton and cotton mills, as inspired by Manchester's status as the international centre of the cotton and textile processing industries during this time.

Origins of Cottonopolis

In 1733 John Kay from Burymarker, Lancashiremarker patented a device for faster and wider weaving of cloth. Before then, weaving was a painstaking and slow process which was limited to the width of a workers arm stretch. The flying shuttle transformed this. Early adoption of the device caused a shortage of thread, which led in turn to demands for improvements to the cotton spinning process.

Five years later John Wyatt and Lewis Paul patented the flyer and bobbin which helped to produce much finer and more even yarn. Their first successful spinning factory was opened in 1743 at Northamptonmarker. Thomas Highs of Leighmarker, near Wiganmarker, then also part of Lancashire, is credited with inventing the first spinning jenny in 1764. It enabled one operator to use up to sixteen spindles at a time. Although the jenny was small and cheap enough to be run inside a home workshop (or cottage industry situation), it was the first genuine step towards mechanisation.

Richard Arkwright (born in Prestonmarker), patented his water frame in 1769. It used Thomas Highs' spinning jenny but needed the concentration of machinery and workers in one place because it was too big to be used in a cottage. Developing his and other inventors’ ideas, in 1775 Arkwright was able to evolve a process for continuous cotton-spinning powered by water-driven machines like the Draw Frame and the Roving Frame. In 1779 Samuel Crompton of Boltonmarker invented the Spinning Mule, which combined the water frame and the spinning jenny allowing the fast production of strong, thin yarn.

Large mills powered by water turning machinery sprang up across Lancashire and many other parts of Great Britain. In 1781 Richard Arkwright opened the world's first steam-driven textile mill (destroyed by enemy bombing in World War II but recently uncovered in an archaeological dig on Miller Street, Manchester). Although it did not work properly at first, its arrival signified a level of mechanisation that was to further enhance the burgeoning Lancashire textile industries into the world's first centre of mass production. As textile manufacture switched from the home to purpose built large factories, beside fast-flowing streams (for water power), Manchester and the surrounding East and South Lancashire towns became the largest and most productive cotton spinning centre of the world. The area of Ancoatsmarker was part of a planned expansion of Manchester and became the first industrial suburb centred on steam power. There were also mills whose architectural innovations included fireproofing by use of iron and stone.

Growth of transport

As industry grew, so did its need for reliable transport provision. The area around Castlefieldmarker, already the meeting point of many canals became home to the world's first passenger railway station when the Liverpool and Manchester Railway opened in 1830. This spurred Manchester to gain a major lead in engineering as many new foundries and machine tool firms were created - surviving examples of which are still located in surrounding suburbs like Newton Heathmarker, Beswickmarker, Openshawmarker and Gortonmarker. Victorian era mechanical engineer William Fairbairn opened an engineering works in Ancoats which supplied most of the iron used in the construction of the mills.

Peak of cotton industry

The number of cotton mills in Manchester peaked at 108 in 1853. Although the number of mills in Manchester subsequently declined, new cotton mills continued to be opened in the surrounding Lancashire towns of Oldhammarker (at its zenith the most productive cotton spinning town in the world), Rochdalemarker, Boltonmarker (known for a time as "Cotton Town" ) and farther afield around Blackburnmarker, Darwenmarker, Rawtenstallmarker, Todmordenmarker and Burnleymarker.

Following the downturn of 1883, city industrialists embarked upon the monumental and hugely expensive task of constructing the Manchester Ship Canal in an effort to boost trade. This led to new mills being built in the suburbs, such as the vast Victoria Mill at Miles Plattingmarker, the site of the last cotton mill built in Manchester in 1924.

Growth of warehousing

In the final half of the 1800s Manchester's reputation as the finance and commerce centre was boosted by the unprecedented number of warehouses erected in the city centre. In 1806 there were just over 1,000 but by 1815 this had almost doubled to 1,819. Manchester was dubbed "warehouse city". To begin with most were built around the King Streetmarker area although by 1850 warehouses had spread right down to Portland Street and later to Whitworth Streetmarker. Richard Cobden's construction in Mosley Streetmarker was the first palazzo warehouse, followed by the elaborate Watts Warehousemarker of 1854, and most recently the packing warehouses (India House, Velvet House, Asia House, etc), some of the tallest buildings of their time, along Whitworth Streetmarker. The square mile of "warehouse city" is cited as the finest example of a Victorian commercial centre in the United Kingdom. .

This area was one of the core components of the listing of Manchester and Salford on a tentative list of UNESCOmarker World Heritage Sites [347729]

These dominant buildings were the stately homes of the cotton industry and the backbone of Cottonopolis, providing not just the storage facilities but also the display of finished goods. They spurned equally ornate bank and office buildings providing loans for the production of cotton and associated industries. The crown palace of Cottonopolis was the Manchester Royal Exchangemarker Hall. The first of which was built by Sir Oswald Mosley in 1729. It was subsequently re-built and labelled at the time the largest trading room in the world. 29.2 metres high, the vast hall had an area of 3683 square metres, and a membership of up to eleven thousand cotton merchants. They met every Tuesday and Friday to trade their wares beneath the 38.5 metre high central glass dome. After her visit in 1851 Queen Victoria granted the Exchange to be henceforth known as The Manchester Royal Exchange. It was lavishly re-built by architects Bradshaw Gass & Hope between 1914-21. The building was badly damaged in World War II and ceased operation for cotton trading in 1968. It was renovated and turned into the home of one of the most profilic and highly regarded theatres outside London in 1972. The Exchange was damaged again in 1996 by the IRA bombmarker and rebuilt once more at a cost of £32 million.


Many of the 18th and 19th century cotton mills, canals, supporting bridges and infrastructure exist today.

Footnotes on banking

From the late 1820s onwards, Manchester was rapidly developing into an important city. The Act of Parliament of 1829 decreed separate Police Commissioners from neighbouring Salfordmarker. The 1832 Reform Act created 2 Members of Parliament, the 1835 Municipal Reform Act allowed the election of magistrates,borough councillors and aldermen. Campaigns by reformers like Richard Cobden, led to Manchester being granted a Mayor and Municipal Borough status in 1838. All this civic structure, along with the rapacious growth of the cotton and aligned industries described above, meant vast amounts of liquid assets were passing through Manchester, leading to the establishment of many money handling organisations and banking facilities.

As early as 1772, Arthur Heywood's Bank opened in Manchester, but the money itself was transferred daily via coach and horses to the major banks in London, and many were attacked by highwaymen. The first genuine bank to hold its own reserves of notes and coins was the Bank of Manchester, which opened on Market Street in 1829. Next was The Manchester & Liverpool District Bank on Spring Gardens in 1832, followed quickly by many others in the same area around Spring Gardens, Fountain Street and King Street. This became the Central Business District and banking centre of Manchester.


The following commentary has been granted regarding Manchester's status as a textile processing capital:

See also


  1. Manchester Cottonopolis, Spinning the Web, Manchester City Council. URL accessed December 7, 2006.
  2. Cited by
  3. Gurr & Hunt (1998). The Cotton Mills of Oldham, Oldham Education & Leisure. Pg 4. ISBN 0-902809-46-6
  4. NW Cotton Towns Learning Journey URL accessed October 27, 2006.
  5. On Cottonopolis..., Spinning the Web, Manchester City Council. URL accessed December 7, 2006.

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