by N. D. Wright.
In the first part of this (two-part) article series, we took a tour through some amazing facts about Manchester’s history, not least, exploring some of the city’s ‘firsts’: from the nation’s first symphony orchestra and its first free public library, to the world’s first football league, and most remarkably of all, kick-starting the Industrial Revolution –perhaps the most startling period of technological and cultural advancement in all of human history.
As if all this wasn’t impressive enough, let’s now continue our adventure with five more key events that put this once non-descript medieval English township firmly on the map.
1. The first passenger railway
Although the Industrial Revolution had certainly been underway in Britain for many decades, before 1830, there were no fully-mechanised public transport systems, that is, ones that didn’t rely primarily on animal-drawn (usually horse-drawn) vehicles.
The Liverpool and Manchester Railway was the first major transport route, and the first double track railway, to rely solely on steam power, as it linked two north-west English towns (soon to be cities), Liverpool and Manchester.
On 15th September, a line was opened between the stations Liverpool Lime street and Manchester Victoria. It was the first to be fully timetabled and make use of a signalling system. Also, the ambitious employment of tunnels was a minor miracle in itself: the Wapping Tunnel running under Liverpool, for example, was hailed as one of the era’s finest engineering achievements; it was the world’s first tunnel route to travel beneath a city.
2. The Trades Union Congress (TUC)
By the mid-Victorian era, the stunning advances in industrialisation and production means had radically changed entire industries and the work lives of millions. It was through these developments that trades unions were born.
Trades (or workers’) unions, consisting of manual labourers joining forces to advocate for their needs and interests, had been around in one form another for a while, however, they were illegal and usually violently quashed by the government, and thus, largely ineffective in improving the lives of the working class.
Through the growing industrial society – and its gradual democratising effects – worker protests became more wide-spread. This is perhaps best exemplified in the famous 1811-1816 Luddite rebellion where textile workers burned down mills and smashed weaving machines in an effort to protest what they believed to be worker exploitation: primarily, bosses using machines to undercut workers’ wages. The uprising was ultimately defeated by the government and military, but the protest movement was no doubt instrumental in paving the way for the later large-scale workers’ unions.
3. The atom
At the turn of the 19th century, whilst teaching in Manchester, John Dalton, a renowned chemist and physicist who pioneered research into colour blindness, developed his atomic theory, which lead to the discovery of atoms.
Dalton’s theory laid out such pioneering ideas as: elements consist of extremely tiny atomic particles, atoms of a particular element are identical in size and mass, and atoms cannot be created, destroyed or subdivided.
A century later, at the university, the physicist Ernest Rutherford, is widely credited with the first ‘splitting’ of the atom, in 1919. He had already won the 1908 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his work on radiation – the youngest person to ever do so.
In honour of both men’s achievements, Manchester University now have a physics lab called ‘The Rutherford Building’, a hall of residence building named after Dalton, and award a total of four ‘Dalton scholarships’ for chemistry and maths, as well as a Natural History prize.
4. Rolls Royce
The famous luxury motor car producer, and later jet engine developer, Rolls-Royce was founded in Manchester in 1906 following a meeting in the city centre Midland Hotel between engineers Frederick Royce and Charles Rolls. It was here they joined forces to set up their legendary company.
Frederick Royce had long been fascinated with all things electrical or mechanical, but his interest in the motor car truly developed after he purchased a couple of the latest French automobiles. He started tinkering with and improving them, so much so that it became apparent that he could build something superior. Royce produced the first car in his workshop in the Hulme area of the city in 1904 under the company name, Royce Ltd.
A 1987 British newspaper survey reported that only Coca-Cola was a more widely known brand than Rolls-Royce.
5. The first programmable computer
With home and mobile computers now being so capable and efficient, it is easy to forget how far computing, and all things digital, has come. Seventy years ago, Manchester was at the heart of creating the modern computer.
The Small-Scale Experimental Machine (or SSEM), nicknamed ‘The Baby’, designed and built at the University of Manchester by Professors Tom Kilburn and Freddie Williams, was the first of several revolutionary computer innovations to come out of the city.
On 21st June 1948, ‘The Baby’ became the very first computer to run a program that was electronically stored in its memory, rather than on paper tape or hardwired in. This soon lead to more powerful machines, such as Manchester Mark 1, which became, in 1951, the prototype for the Ferranti Mark 1, the world’s first commercial general-purpose computer. This was later developed into the first supercomputer, the Ferranti Atlas in 1962, which for a time was the most powerful computer in the world.