Record of the Week: ‘Manchester As It Is’

By Carys Brown

The eighteenth century saw a vast increase in tourism. Fuelled by this boom, eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century guides and maps often advertised themselves with claims to superior accuracy or comprehensiveness. However, their creators were far from neutral observers. A map or guide was the perfect medium by which to bolster a town’s reputation by highlighting and advertising certain features while also challenging any damaging preconceptions that vistors might have. The features that authors chose to include or omit in such sources are therefore suggestive of how they wanted outsiders to view their town, and of what they believed potential tourists would find most appealing.

Manchester As It Is, published in 1839 (copy held in Chetham’s Library, Manchester), provides a useful demonstration of this. The focus of this guide was ostensibly on the commercial aspects of Manchester. Complete with street plan, the guide professed to provide Notices of the Institutions, Manufactures, Commerce, Railways, etc. of the Metropolis of Manufactures: Interspersed with Valuable Information Useful for the Resident and Stranger’. The industrial and commercial success of the town was clearly an important source of pride for the author, Benjamin Love, who declared that since 1774 the town had ‘risen from comparatively a small town to be one of the most populous and important places in the world’.

He was also evidently aware, however, that the manufacturing that underpinned Manchester’s growth might not necessarily be an attraction to all potential visitors; he acknowledged that Manchester had gained a ‘notoriety’ elsewhere for riotous tendencies among those ‘dependent upon their daily labor’. Presumably worried that this might be off-putting to tourists, he sought to reassure them by arguing that the manufacturing industries in fact led to morality and good order. The following passage quoted from a speech by Rev. R. Parkinson of the Collegiate Church, was central to his argument:

I believe that a feeling is becoming very prevalent elsewhere, that there is something in the character of manufactures which is unnatural, and opposed to the will of God. Now I maintain that that state to which we are tending in manufactures is as much the will of God as agricultural pursuits. I am aware that an able and well known poet has said – and the saying has almost passed into a proverb – ‘God made the country, but man made the town,’ – meaning, of course, that the country was the most proper place for man to dwell in, and that the occupations of town-life were unnatural…I maintain, that if we can strike an average of all classes of our population and the population of other districts, we shall find that the morality of this district will not be below that of the most primitive agricultural population.

Love’s use of this quote highlights not only that he saw religion as an important element in the reputation of the town, but also that he explicitly saw it as necessary to reassure potential visitors that the chief source of Manchester’s growth was not against the will of God. It thus suggests that while manufacturing and commerce were significant sources of pride for Manchester, an industrial identity could be damaging if godliness was not also in evidence. It is surely not a coincidence that the street plan included in the guide (see featured image) was labelled in detail with all the places of worship in the town, but with very few of its manufacturing or commercial landmarks. Industry was impressive, but without religion and good order it was unappealing.

 

Record used:

  • B. Love, Manchester As It Is: Or, Notices of the Institutions, Manufactures, Commerce, Railways, etc. of the Metropolis of Manufactures: Interspersed with Valuable Information Useful for the Resident and Stranger (Manchester: Love and Barton, 1839), pp. 12, 26-28.

Image:

  • ‘Plan of the Principal Streets & Railways in Manchester, 1839’ from Love, Manchester As It Is. Photograph author’s own, reproduced by kind permission of Chetham’s Library, Manchester.

Further reading:

Rosemary Sweet, Domestic tourism in Great Britain’, British Library ‘Picturing Places’ Blog, https://www.bl.uk/picturing-places/articles/domestic-tourism-in-great-britain

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