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Modern History SourceBook
Friederich Engels on Industrial Manchester (1844)
Manchester, in South-east Lancashire rapidly rose from obscurity to become the premier center of cotton
manufacture in England. This was largely due to geography. Its famously damp climate was better for cotton
manufacture than the drier climate of the older eastern English cloth manufacture centers. It was close to the
Atlantic port of Liverpool (and was eventually connected to it by one of the earliest rail tracks, as well as an
Ocean ship capable canal - although thirty miles inland, it was long a major port). It was also close to
power sources - first the water power of the Pennine mountain chain, and later the coal mines of central
Lancashire. As a result, Manchester became perhaps the first modern industrial city.
Friedricj Engels' father was a German manufacturer and Engels worked as his agent in his father's
Manchester factory. Engels also funded much of the work of Karl Marx, and collaborated with him. As a
result, Engels combined both real experience of the city, with a strong social conscience. The resul was his
The Condition of the Working-Class in England in 1844.
Manchester lies at the foot of the southern slope of a range of hills.
... The whole assemblage of buildings
[including those in several small towns very nearby] is commonly called Manchester, and contains about four
hundred thousand inhabitants, rather more than less. The town itself is peculiarly built, so that a person may
live in it for years, and go in and out daily without coming into contact with a working-people's quarter or
even with workers, that is, so long as he confines himself to his business or to pleasure walks. This arises
chiefly from the fact, that by unconscious tacit agreement, as well as with outspoken conscious
determination, the workingpeople's quarters are sharply separated from the sections of the city reserved for
the middle-class; . . .
I may mention just here that the mills almost all adjoin the rivers or the different canals that ramify
throughout the city, before I proceed at once to describe the labouring quarters. First of all, there is the old
town of Manchester, which lies between the northern boundary of the commercial district and [a stream or
small river called] the Irk. Here the streets, even the better ones, are narrow and winding, as Todd Street,
Long Millgate, Withy Grove, and Shude Hill, the houses dirty, old, and tumble-down, and the construction of
the side streets utterly horrible. Going from the Old Church to Long Millgate, the stroller has at once a row of
old-fashioned houses at the right, of which not one has kept its original level; these are remnants of the old
pre-manufacturing Manchester, whose former inhabitants have removed with their descendants into better
built districts, and have left the houses, which were not good enough for them, to a population strongly mixed
with Irish blood. Here one is in an almost undisguised working-men's quarter, for even the shops and beer