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Manchester History

In exploring Manchester history let’s start with a bit of etymology. The name Manchester is believed to have grown out of “Mamucium,” meaning “breast-shaped hill”—the name a Roman fort constructed in 79 A.D. on the site of what would later become the city. Although the Roman fort may have been modeled on mammaries, there’s nothing breast-shaped about 21st century Manchester. In fact, Greater Manchester is a sprawling mass of roads, residential areas and brilliant things to see and do, with tendrils heading south toward Stockport and Oldham in the north. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s rewind in our discussion of Manchester history to the 18th century, when the pulse of Britain’s industrial revolution was felt most strongly in Manchester. Thanks to the presence of a years-old cloth trade in nearby Bolton, cotton production took off in the city and before long it was dubbed “Cottonopolis.” “I saw the forest of chimneys pouring forth volumes of steam and smoke, forming an inky canopy which seemed to embrace and involve the whole place," said William Cooke Taylor, an industrial revolution writer, at the time. Yet, before the 1900s could get a footing, cotton production was already slowing dramatically, partly thanks to America’s burgeoning cotton industry. Around the time that the World War II blitz hit the city, water and steam power were the new buzzwords, followed by rifles, Ford cars and Lancaster bombers. The hangover from the industrial revolution in Manchester—and Manchester’s history as a bastion of British socialism—is still evident in the city, alongside beautifully preserved Victorian-era houses and neo-Gothic architecture. Unfortunately, some of that was lost during a 1996 IRA bomb attack (no fatalities) in what is now the modern Millennium Quarter. During the ups and downs of Manchester’s turbulent life, there has been one constant: the music scene. If you’re a fan of Britpop, you’ll know Manchester as the hometown of Oasis. If you were into boy bands in the 1990s, Manchester is synonymous with “Take That.” Further back, the city birthed such greats as The Stone Roses, The Smiths, New Order and The Happy Mondays.