The city and its surroundings

This information is adapted from that developed by our colleagues at CHSTM for the iCHSTM conference in 2013, and is used with permission.

The Castlefield district of Manchester. Used under CC license courtesy of:
The Castlefield district of Manchester. Photo:, used under CC license

About Manchester


“What Art was to the ancient world, Science is to the modern: the distinctive faculty. In the minds of men the useful has succeeded to the beautiful. Instead of the city of the Violet Crown, a Lancashire village has expanded into a mighty region of factories and warehouses. Yet rightly understood, Manchester is as great a human exploit as Athens.”

Benjamin Disraeli, Coningsby; or, the New Generation (1844)

Manchester is no longer so straightforwardly the “Metropolis of Manufactures” which burst noisily onto the world stage at the end of the eighteenth century. It is a diverse modern city which has learned complex lessons from the patterns of growth, decay, and regeneration which have shaped it; and its cultural identity appeals, in many ways, to “Art” as much as to “Science.” It remains, however, a city of which the world takes notice.

From a northerly defensive outpost of the Roman Empire to a quiet early-modern market town with a modest reputation for cotton goods, Manchester went largely unremarked until the middle of the eighteenth century. With improving transport links across north-west England, however – and in particular with the opening of the Bridgewater Canal, which secured a supply route of cheap coal to the town – Manchester emerged as the centre of a cotton-focused manufacturing trade requiring an ever-larger workforce. The town grew rapidly, and from the 1790s the distinctive blocky structures of the “cotton mills” – mechanised factories for spinning and weaving – rose to redefine the skyline.

Manchester, however, was never simply Cottonopolis. In supplying the needs of the surrounding textile towns, it developed a reputation in precision engineering, and in areas of chemistry such as bleaching and dyestuffs; and, increasingly, as a centre for research and higher education. Into the twentieth century, it remained a significant site of technological and industrial innovation and international commerce. Following the Second World War, with a decline in manufacturing industry across the industrial heartlands of the UK, the city repositioned itself once again. On the world stage, it is perhaps best known for its contributions to leisure, entertainment and culture: its two world-class football clubs; its musical successes, both cult and mainstream; its extensive old and new media sectors, entertainment venues and heritage attractions.

Those who wish to take a break from the conference will find plenty to do in and around Manchester, and the conference venue is within easy walking distance of much of what is to offer. There is excellent retail shopping in the city centre, mostly focused around the Market Street and St Anne’s Square areas; several major art galleries and a host of smaller ones, excellent theatres and cinemas; some great traditional pubs (and beer gardens), some great modern bars, an unrivalled selection of live music venues, small and large. Many of these are in the gritty but hip Northern Quarter, also home to many pubs and bars, places to eat (including the Northern Quarter’s famous curry cafes – our favourite is the cheap but excellent ‘This & That‘), vintage clothing and record shops. The city centre also hosts three famous libraries: the medieval Cheetham’s library, where you can sit where Marx sat and consult the same books he consulted during his researches in the city; the victorian gothic extravaganza that is the John Rylands Library in Spinningfields (the venue for the conference reception on 17th June); plus a much loved and spectacularly refurbished municipal library. There is also a national football museum!

Other places popular with visitors are the bars and restaurants of the Spinningfields business district; the canal banks, bars and restaurants of the Castlefield district, an urban heritage park where Mancunians flock when the Sun comes out; and – a short tram ride from the city centre – the regenerated  dockland of Salford Quays, home to the BBC, ITV, Daniel Liebskind’s Imperial War Museum North and Michael Wilford’s Lowry theatre and gallery complex.

Manchester should, however, hold a particular appeal for those interested in science, technology and innovation. The region is uniquely rich in industrial heritage; and the conference takes place at the University of Manchester, the site of some of the key developments of twentieth and twenty-first science and technology. Definitely worth a visit is the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI), located in the Castlefield district. Part of the national science museum group, MOSI has excellent permanent exhibits and temporary exhibitions (this summer, the blockbuster ‘Collider!‘ exhibition, about the LHC at CERN).

Further resources:

Old fish market, Manchester's Northern Quarter
Old market buildings, High Street, Northern Quarter
Photo: Matthew Hartley, used under CC license.

IWM North at Salford Quays.
Photo: David McKelvey, used under CC license.

John Rylands Library, Manchester.
John Rylands Library, Spinningfields, Manchester.
Photo: Christophe Morisset, used under CC license.

Beyond the City limits

There is a familiar tourist representation of England, and Manchester does not belong to it. London landmarks aside, Tourist England is a place of green fields, winding lanes, village cricket, stone churches, cottages (thatched, for preference) and unchanging traditions. Manchester is a buzz of brick and glass and roads and busy people: the world first noticed Manchester as a centre of change, and it is never quite the same place twice.

Yet it is easy to reach the open country outside Manchester, and the smaller, picturesque towns beyond – and, indeed, many urban dwellers choose to spend their leisure time walking in the hills, touring historic houses, or soaking up the atmosphere of country pubs. If Tourist England is not quite a reality, it is something more than a myth: its chief consumers are the English, and the income it generates has a real enough role in the rural English economy. Diligent scholars, then, should feel no shame in exploring some of the more tourist-friendly elements of the region and beyond. Manchester’s location makes it an excellent starting point from which to reach the natural and manmade beauty of the North of England (the Peak District to the South, the Lake District to the North, the North Yorks moors to the East and the coast to the West) and indeed of North Wales and even the lowlands of Scotland.

Towns and villages

Pub interior

Heading out of the city into Cheshire (to the south) or Lancashire (to the north), the traveller will sooner or later reach something not too dissimilar to the mythic England of tradition. The country pubs are real enough, and so too are the stone churches. This is farming country, dotted with villages and market towns: some maintain populations of city commuters, of varying degrees of prosperity, while others remain very much the territory of “genuine locals.” Some, despite the chocolate-box cliché, really are beautiful, while others are at least beautifully preserved. It is far better to stumble upon them by accident than to treat them as destinations, but the visitor guides to Cheshire towns and Lancashire destinations may be useful.

The National Parks

By international standards, there is no wilderness in England. There are, however, regions of particular natural beauty and environmental value which, as National Parks, are carefully managed and protected from conventional development. Though the focus is on conserving natural features, plant and animal life, the Parks contain towns and villages, often of historic character, and are popular leisure destinations.

Peak District

The Peak District is conveniently just beyond the south-eastern fringes of urban Manchester. The peaks in question are hilly, rather than mountainous, comprising the southern end of the Pennine range. The area is of profound geological interest, with caverns, rare minerals, and underground springs. The main town of Buxton (enclosed by the National Park region, though not part of it) was a Roman spa town, which, like Bath in Southern England, underwent a fashionable revival in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The Lake District, close enough for a day trip, is England’s largest National Park, indelibly associated with the Lake Poets and with popular definitions of the picturesque. While the beauty of the towns and villages fringing the Lakes has encouraged an almost sedentary breed of tourism, the region is at the same time the most mountainous in England, and much loved by serious hikers and outdoor sports enthusiasts.

The North York Moors, a little closer than the Lakes, are also popular with walkers. The region is lightly populated, with many historic buildings, and again has an interesting geology.

The coast(s)

Manchester is famously the inland city that turned itself into a sea port. And famously the city that has “everything except a beach” Despite this, we remain resolutely 40 miles from the sea. Our nearest beaches are those to the north of Liverpool (Crosby with its famous sculpture ‘Another Place’, by Antony Gormley (pictured) and, further north, the beaches, dunes, woods and red squirrels of Formby Point. In the opposite direction, to the south west of Manchester is the easily reached and much loved North Wales coastline.

And because Britain is a tall, thin island and Manchester is somewhere towards the centre of one of the thinner bits, the beautiful east coast towns and beaches of Yorkshire are also reachable, though just that little bit too far for a day trip. And further afield up that coast, to the north of the great city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, are the absolutely stunning beaches, fishing villages and castles of Northumbria. Only a little further north and you are in Scotland.

Stately homes and historic country houses

Lyme Park

The international success of the historical soap opera Downton Abbey confirms the world’s ongoing love affair with the “stately homes of England”, those surviving physical manifestations of a vanished and increasingly exotic social order. Sensible historians, of course, are wary of rosy mythologies, but the great country houses are at one level firmly authentic: they are spectacular now because they were built to be so, at a time when spectacle and curiosity were indicators of status and devices for gaining it.

It took the death of the underlying cultures to secure the country house as a familiar public phenomenon. The social and financial changes of the twentieth century left many of the traditional owners unable to maintain the upkeep of their houses and estates; the exceptions, some of whom are still resident, mostly depend on opening up some or all of the property for visits or social functions. Most houses, however, and particularly those on a smaller scale, are uninhabited, and lived purely through their visitors. Some are managed commercially, others by local government or by the National Trust, whose approach focuses on conservation.

The range of visitor experiences is therefore very wide. Most sites showcase historic interior furnishings or collections; others are left bare to reveal the construction of the property; some are arranged to present the relationship between the house and the farm estate which served it. Of the more elaborate sites, some show the influence of the “living history” approach, with costumed interpreters, while some, following an ancestral theme, simply aim to offer as many diverse spectacles as possible.

The area around Manchester is home to numerous historic houses, great and small, reflecting ever-changing notions of domestic management and architecture (and, indeed, architectural history: many centuries-old designs are interpretations of even older archetypes). Cheshire has a particularly rich country-house heritage, and is famous for original examples of the black-and-white “half-timbered” (timber-framed) style. Even in industrial south Lancashire, however, where urban growth has entirely erased the pattern of the old land estates, the modern streetscapes occasionally give way to an ancient survival.

In Greater Manchester

Dunham Massey

Bramall Hall, Bramhall, Stockport. Large black-and-white timber-framed manor house.

Dunham Massey, Trafford. Impressive hall and deer park, managed by the National Trust. The Library contains an orrery and armillary sphere by Thomas Wright.

Hall i’ th’ Wood, Bolton. Small timber-framed manor house dating from the sixteenth century, once home to Samuel Crompton, inventor of the spinning mule. Visits by appointment.

Heaton Hall, Heaton Park. Grand example of eighteenth-century Palladian design. The grounds contain many features which were at one time or another the height of country-house fashion, including a “temple”, gatehouse lodge, and ornamental gardens. (As of February 2012, the Hall is closed to the public, although much of the Park site is accessible.)

Ordsall Hall, Ordsall, Salford. Manor house dating in part to the fifteenth century, once visited by the humanist scholar Erasmus.

Smithills Hall, Bolton. Manor house with surviving medieval features.

Wythenshawe Hall, Wythenshawe. Grand half-timbered Tudor house. (As of February 2012, the Hall is closed to the public.)

In Cheshire and Lancashire

Hoghton Tower

Adlington Hall, Adlington, Cheshire. Country house developed from a Saxon hunting lodge, with gardens.

Arley Hall, Arley, Cheshire. Striking nineteenth-century interpretation of Elizabethan architecture, with extensive gardens.

Capesthorne Hall, Siddington, Cheshire. Tudor-influenced eighteenth-century home.

Dorfold Hall, Acton, Cheshire. Well-preserved Jacobean mansion house.

Gawsworth Old Hall, Gawsworth, Cheshire. Authentic black-and-white half-timbered house, largely sixteenth-century.

Gawthorpe Hall, Padiham, Lancashire. Elizabethan house with interiors by Charles Barry, managed by the National Trust. The property’s owner in the 1840s, Lady Janet Shuttleworth, married Dr James Kay, author of the influential Moral and Physical Condition of the Working-Class, founding the influential Kay-Shuttleworth family.

Hoghton Tower (pictured), Chorley, Lancashire. Distinctive castellated hilltop manor house, developed in Tudor times from a Norman fortification.

Little Moreton Hall, Congleton, Cheshire. Superb example of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century black-and-white half-timbering, famously bent and warped to crazy angles by the weight of an added third storey. Uninhabited; maintained by the National Trust, with areas left bare to demonstrate the building techniques used. Also has a moat.

Lyme Park (pictured), Disley, Cheshire. Impressive Palladian-influence hall, the largest house in Cheshire. Now in the possession of the National Trust, with rooms maintained in Edwardian period condition. Set in an extensive deer park.

Peover Hall, Over Peover, Cheshire. Redbrick manor house of Elizabethan origin, noted for its Second World War role as the headquarters of US Army General George Patton.

Rufford Old Hall, Rufford (near Ormskirk), Lancashire. National Trust-owned. The timber-framed Great Hall is fifteenth-century, but built to an older pattern, with an impressive hammerbeam roof.

Tabley House interior

Tabley House (pictured), Nether Tabley, Cheshire. Eighteenth-century Palladian redbrick and sandstone, property of the University of Manchester, now partially in use as a private nursing home, but partially open to the public with impressive displays of fine art and furniture.

Tatton Park, Knutsford, Cheshire. National Trust-owned hall, gardens, farm and parkland. Opportunities for extensive time-travel: the Old Hall, later converted to estate cottages, is Tudor; the main Hall or Mansion is eighteenth-century, with extensive collections; the nearby farm is maintained in 1930s style. Costumed guides.

Turton Tower, North Turton (near Blackburn), Lancashire. Developed from a medieval “peel tower”, built on high ground for signalling and observation, into a Tudor manor house. Owned in the seventeenth century by Humphrey Chetham, founder of the Manchester library, and in the nineteenth by the cotton-spinning magnate James Kay.

Further afield

Among the numerous historic houses and country estates which can be visited in a day from Manchester, some of the more impressive and interesting include: Castle Howard, North Yorkshire (famously standing in for the fictional ‘Brideshead’ in not one but two screen versions of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited); Chatsworth, Derbyshire (the home of the Dukes – and Duchesses – of Devonshire, and where the Queen stays when she visits Manchester); Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire; Harewood House, West Yorkshire; Knowsley Hall, Merseyside; Shugborough, Staffordshire.


Chatsworth, Derbyshire (Wikimedia)









Castle Howard, North Yorks (Wikimedia)


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