MANCHESTER, England — Situated among gently rolling hills about 185 miles northwest of London, Manchester was one of the outposts for Rome’s legions in the late First Century A.D. They stayed about three centuries, to be followed by Vikings, Scots and other Europeans.
It’s fair to say none of them would recognize the place now.
The development really started in the 17th century, when forward thinkers decided to import cotton from the New World to build Manchester’s textile business, according to docents in the city’s Museum of Science & Industry.
When the Industrial Revolution arrived in the 1700s, and steam power replaced water wheels, Manchester was launched.
A canal was built to bring the cotton from the docks of mighty Liverpool, 38 miles away. Manchester’s population roughly tripled between 1770 and 1800. Among the newcomers: mechanics and inventors, who understood Manchester could offer them work and pay for experimenting.
They developed machines to speed the processing of the raw cotton; it arrived in bales that still contained leaves and twigs from the ground of America’s South. The machines refined the cotton thread, then strengthened it before it was used in looms to create cloth. The museum docents demonstrate the processes on clattering machinery left from Manchester’s heyday.
The world’s first train dedicated to hauling both freight and passengers arrived here in 1830; that station, in rebuilt form, is one of the museum’s buildings.
Manchester became the de facto mechanical laboratory for the Industrial Revolution.
The bustling city’s roughly 100 companies turned out millions of square yards of cloth – an estimated 70 percent of all the world’s textiles. Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli nicknamed it Cottonopolis.
To host the visiting monied crowd, huge hotels went up in the most ornate Victorian and Edwardian styles. City Hall, created by Venetian craftsmen and occupying a city block, opened in 1877 and is still in use.
There would be eventual decline — the city hasn’t produced a significant amount of cloth for more than a quarter-century. But oddly, it was a huge truck bomb, detonated by the Irish Republican Army in 1996, that led to the rejuvenation or rehabilitation of the city core:
The blast, which injured about 200, angered enough people with money that they decided to invest in Manchester’s future.
Now the lively town is home to an estimated 85,000 college students, Great Britain’s largest Chinese community after London’s, a bubbling cauldron of pop music creativity (everyone from Herman’s Hermits to Morissey and the Smiths), an acclaimed symphony orchestra, and a vibrant arts scene.
And then there’s world-famed Manchester United, the soccer team that lost David Beckham, and its arch-rival, Manchester City.
If you’re coming to take in England’s glorious Lake District, a couple of hours’ drive north, you can fly nonstop from the U.S. to Manchester. Spend a couple of days here, to get a feel for this great-again city.
For all the starting advice you’ll need, including help with reservations, go to the city’s official tourism site, .