Infrastructure & Economic Development


Unknown artist, Ancoats - General View from Victoria Hall Roof, 1895. 

Thomas Horsfall lived in a time where beauty, truth, and morality were the primary concerns of intellectuals coming to terms with an ever more industrializing world. Not only were these philosophical ideals play a role in shaping art and architecture, but they also targeted urban planning as an area where Rukinian ideals could be implemented. Horsfall wanted people to be living in a beautiful environment with lots of nature in the surrounding area and public institutions to provide and respectable entertainment. Naturally an industrial area such as Ancoats did not live up to these values, especially because Horsfall and other socially involved members of the upper classes wrote off working class culture as being either nonexistant or immoral. As class is at the core of this issue, the economic well-being of the city directly impacts the number and quality of jobs available for the working classes. Horsfall envisioned conditions for the working classes that promoted the health of residents and remained true to the beauty of nature, but despite the city's success during the 19th century, these ideals proved to be difficult to attain. Before Manchester experienced a transcendent recovery at the end of the 20th century, it would have to fall completely and endure a near complete economic and infrastructural collapse.


Mancunium Velveteen, Map of Manchester and Salford, 1650. 


Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait, London Road, Manchester, 1844-1850.

Manchester was originally a backwater town in England, the backwater country of Europe. The above map, dating from about 1650, indicates that Manchester had few homes and buildings in this early period. It was home, however, to a proud cottage industry that was already a major producer of cotton before the Industrial Revolution started to take off in the late 18th century. This industry was the backbone of the town's economy and offered well-paying and high quality jobs to those with the resources to set up the required equipment in their home. When the advent of steam powered engines ushered in the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century and mechanized the labor provided by the cottage industry, Manchester embarked on increasingly quick journey towards becoming an indusrial wasteland of concrete and smokestacks. Sources indicate that people initially had access to the countryside in an hours’ walk from any point in the town, even during the Industrial Revolution. Eventually the city would succumb to industry's sprawl after the middle of the 19th century and Manchester ceased to be a small country town. 


London Road, Manchester, painted by Arther Fitzwilliam Tait, portrays this early iteration of the city after it was incorporated by the central government in 1853. People are bustling about and it is clear the town was seen as being a center of commerse and production, but not so much that the artist painted dark skies and menacing chimneys. Instead, the sky is pleasant enough with cheerful clouds and the street is full of domesticated animals, showing a balance between nature and humans. This would all change by the time Thomas Horsfall started writing in the late Victorian period.  


The Ancoats of Horsfall's time was a product of these evolutions that accompanied industrialization. It was both home not only to many of the factories and mills that produced cloth and other cotton products but also to the factory employees. This was one of the reasons the transition from a cottage industry economy was so disconcerting to so many people; an old way of life that provided a high standard of living attained from working out of one's home was displaced with a system that did little to benefit the masses. 


Adolphe Valette, York Street leading to Charles Street, Manchester, 1913. 


Unknown Artist, Backs of Tenements, Oldham Road, 1898. 

The Manchester of Horsfall’s time should sound familiar to those who have read Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist. Living and working conditions were deplorable and in desperate need of intervention. The rapidly growing population meant that “construction could not always keep pace with the population increase, and… population densities could be astonishingly high” (Trinder 486). To compensate, back-to-back housixng was utilized to pack families in as tightly as possible, which Engels criticizes in his writing.


One such area that featured living conditions such as these was Ancoats, where “immigrants had come to work in the newly built steam-powered cotton mills of the city” and multiple households of “the landless urban tenantry” settled on single lots. The living conditions in houses such as these garnered a terrible reputation by 1840, and they were outlawed in Manchester when “the Local Government Act of 1858 enable councils to prohibit building of new back-to-backs” (Nevell 604). The photograph above and to the right potrays what the space between tenement homes looked like at the close of the 19th century.


Adolphe Valette’s York Street leading to Charles Street demonstrates the claustrophobic nature of city life in Manchester just before in 1913. While he dramatizes the size of the buildings by painting the train smaller than it would appear in real life, the smoke, the coal, the motorcars, and the looming warehouse all contribute to a sense of angst that resulted from the toll of industrialization on Manchester.


Attempts to remedy the horrific living conditions were implemented in the latter half of the 19th century by the city council, and with the issue solved, Manchester had to tackle new issues in the 20th century. The 1930s saw the introduction of affordable single-family housing with front and back gardens, allowing people to cultivate plants and have access to nature on their own property. The city still faced an uphill battle against pollution, which countermanded the possibility of implementing any Horsfallian changes to the infrastructure. Manchester also “had the dirtiest air in Britain” as the result of pollution from automobiles rather than from factories” (Mosely 1). 


Project Grow Map Main, 2016.


Manchester remained vital to the global cotten industry into the early 20th century, producing 65% of the world's cotten in 1913 (Hall 12). Its dominance as an industrial center was ultimately brought to a halt with World War I, when global trade was interrupted. Additionally, the Great Depression wrought havok on Manchester's economy and industries in the 1930s.


Manchester's economy never fully recovered from the early 20th century interruptions and cotten export ultimately halted in 1968 (15-24). Its port, once third largest in the UK, could no longer accomodate the volume and growing size of container ships. Manchesters economy continued to suffer as a result and Margaret Thatcher's policies after 1979 kept heavey industry from flourishing (Hall 224). During this long period, it was impossible for Manchester to attain the ideals set forth by Thomas Horsfall because of the downturn that followed the World Wars and the subsequent economic policies prevnted proper distribution of resources to the working class. 


It eventually began to recover alongside new building projects that promoted the regeneration of infrastructure in the late 1980s, including the Metrolink rail system, the Bridgewater Concert Hall, and the Manchester Arena (Hartwell) (Parkinson-Bailey). The City Council promoted the significance of the area because of the role it had during the height of the British Empire and from “1989 to 1996 a Development Corporation… brought streamlined powers, fast-tracked planning opportunities, and further resources, into the area to reconceptualize the urban space… and to further diversity the range of regeneration" (Hall 436). 


With its dark and soot filled history  in mind in the 21st century, Manchester is now making a conscious effort to accommodate its residents by implementing better transportation infrastructure. People now have better access than ever to the countryside and to the various public services the city has to offer. While Horsfall’s vision of a city that properly adheres to Ruskin’s principles was never fulfilled, Manchester has certainly become a place where people of all classes can live with access to the necessary goods and serves.


Ancoats in particular is a far cry from its Victorian self. What was once a working class slum has now become a center of gentrification and commercialization. Once Manchester stabalized after the conclusion of turbulent late 20th century, its overall economy experienced a turnover that assisted in Ancoats' trasnformation to being a newfound cradle of technological and entrepreneurial innovation. As with any other case of gentrifying neighborhoods, however, the improvement of an area does not mean universal benefits for all. Oftentimes rents increase and working class communities are displaced by wealthier up-and-coming white collar workers. Ancoats in Manchester is a different place than it was in Horsfall's time, but possibly not for the reasons his philosophy would have anticipated. 


Written by Billy Rehbock



Infrastructure & Economic Development