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24 September 2014

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You are in: Manchester > New Kids From The Bloc > Manchester: migrant city

Manchester: migrant city

Manchester is defined by immigration. More than any other city, apart from the capital, it is composed of layers of incomers some generations old and some first generation.

Polish workman, 1959 [pic: Manchester Archives]

1959: Polish workman on a railway bridge

Manchester is defined by immigration. More than any other UK city, apart from the capital, it is composed of layers of incomer, some generations old and some first generation. These came in three main periods:


During the early part of the nineteenth century when Manchester attracted people from all across the British Isles to come and work in the rapidly expanding industries. This was marked by non-Lancashire English, Scottish, Welsh and then increasingly Irish populations moving into the city.

This period also marks out Manchester (and London and Liverpool) as different from other cities. The two Lancashire metropolises looked across the world to do business, the port of Liverpool - and later the Port of Manchester - the point of access to a global trade. Because of this, many immigrants to the city were wealthy drawn by the potential of increasing their fortunes. It was largely businessmen of German origin who bank-rolled the Halle Orchestra in its developing years.


Irish navvies [pic: M'cr Ship Canal Co.]

1890s: Irish navvies on the Ship Canal

The second period in the later nineteenth century sees overseas working class immigration into Manchester. The main elements in this were Jewish East Europeans escaping the pogroms and Italians escaping poverty but there were very many other nationalities making their way to Manchester too.


The third main period is post World War II: first, of refugees from Europe particularly Polish, Ukrainian and Yugoslavian fleeing the Soviets. Then of peoples from the ex-colonies of the British Empire. From the 1950s onwards Manchester began to get significant populations of Afro-Caribbean and Pakistani (and subsequently Bangladeshi) people.

There’s also a significant increase in first generation Irish escaping a lack of opportunity in their own countries. More recently again Manchester has seen a Somalian refugee population move into the city and economic migrants such as, very recently, East Europeans and the Chinese.

Italian immigrants [pic: Manchester Archives]

1922: Italian immigrants in Ancoats

World city

The result of all this over the last two hundred years is that Manchester having been involved in all these periods is the most polyglot of all British cities aside from the capital - Liverpool missed out on large-scale Indian sub-continent immigration after World War II for instance. And because of the wealth of some of the nineteenth century incomers who gained positions of influence, we’ve usually had an open world view right at the top in the city.

This last point is crucial. London has always had its class-defined establishment which is usually recruited from the public schools of the nation. Manchester has never had this type of elite. Not only has Manchester been an immigrant city but those immigrants have helped build the place from the top down. Manchester is, of course, British, even Lancastrian, but it is also, very definitely, a world city.

last updated: 03/10/07

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