- How money from slavery made Greater Manchester
- The importance of cotton in north west England
- The Lancashire cotton famine
- Smoking, drinking and the British sweet tooth
- Black presence in Britain and north west England
- Resistance and campaigns for abolition
- The bicentenary of British abolition
Why was cotton so important in north west England?
Manchester’s undisputed position as the centre of the world’s cotton industry in the 1800s was based in part on its role as the main trading centre of the industry. However, Manchester’s role as an important commercial centre for textiles can be traced back at least to the 1500s.
Cotton warehouses became one of the defining building types in the city centre in the 1800s. Warehouse design evolved to meet the increase in trade and the changing requirements of the industry. Some of the largest fortunes in the cotton industry were made not by manufacturers but by the merchants, and they invested in their warehouses, recognising the importance of conducting business and having goods on display in a building that impressed potential customers.
A remarkable cross-section of warehouse types can still be identified in the city centre, especially in the area between Mosley Street and Whitworth Street. Four main types of warehouses can be recognised.
Displays of goods for sale
First, were the warehouses that served the home trade. These included showrooms in which multitudes of cotton goods, ready-made goods such as shirts, blouses, underwear and bedding, were displayed. The need to maximise natural daylight was one of the factors which determined their design. They were also the most architecturally ornate of Manchester's warehouses, eye-catching in appearance and a reassuring statement of a firm’s wealth and solidity. Surviving examples include the architecturally flamboyant Watts Warehouse (now Britannia Hotel) in Portland Street. Not unexpectedly, the rear of the building, which customers did not see, was finished in cheap brick rather than stone.
Second, were the foreign goods warehouses. These were the meeting places for merchants and agents purchasing plain or printed cotton cloths to be sold abroad.
The third type of warehouse, the packing warehouses, became more important towards the end of the 1800s. They were large buildings with a comparatively small display area for customers, their main purpose being the checking, labelling and packing of goods for export. Whitworth Street boasted some fine examples of this type.
Whether goods were destined for the home market or export they usually left Manchester by train. This large and lucrative business contributed to the building of railway warehouses across the city. The first railway warehouse to be built was at the terminus of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, directly opposite the passenger platform. Later examples included a group of warehouses around London Road station (now Piccadilly station). The last major railway warehouse to be built was in the 1890s when the Great Northern Railway Company’s warehouse was completed on Deansgate. These warehouses did not deal only in textiles but stored other goods, including tobacco and sugar, products which in an earlier generation had been imported from countries based on slave economies.
This information was provided by Terry Wyke.