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The family settles in Manchester

My great-grandparents all came to Manchester and Salford between about 1865 and the end of the century. They came from different parts of England and Ireland, and each had their own reasons for making a new life here. They lived in a city which was slowly changing for the better, but which was very different from their previous homes. I never knew them, but this is their story.

Charles and Jane

Charles Potts was born in Belfast in about 1835, and settled in Manchester in the 1860s after leaving the army. His wife Jane Nesbitt was born in Carrickfergus in about 1842, and like her future husband, moved to Manchester in the 1860s.

Thomas and Mary Ann

Thomas Griffin was born in 1873 in Kilmovee, Mayo, and came to Manchester to find work in the late 1880s. Mary Ann Gregory was born in 1876 in Wolverhampton, but her family was originally from Shropshire. She came to Manchester in the 1890s.

James and Helen

Helen Jones Dowding was born in Clifton in 1852, but her family lived in Bath, where her maternal grandfather was a saddler. She came to Manchester in the late 1870s - perhaps to join her married sister Louisa. Her purported husband, James Jones, however, remains a mystery.

William and Annie

William Gosling was born in the Cheshire village of Lymm in 1866, after his father moved there from Hazel Grove. Annie Hinton's family also came from Lymm, where she was born in 1867. The couple married in Lymm and came to work in Stretford at the end of the 1890s.

Manchester and Salford in the 19th century

The Industrial Revolution saw the emergence of the modern city, as factories and mills were constructed, and workers flocked to the towns in search of employment. Nowhere was this more graphically illustrated than Manchester, the international centre of the cotton and textile spinning industry, whose population trebled during the first half of the 19th century. The canal network was supplemented by the world's first passenger railway station when the Liverpool and Manchester Railway opened in 1830, and when the cotton industry started to decline, the construction of the Manchester Ship Canal transformed inland Manchester into Britain's third busiest port.


However, although Manchester brought prosperity to the fortunate mill-owners, and created a larger middle class of professionals such as lawyers and doctors, the ordinary working people of Manchester and Salford lived in dire poverty, with long working hours, poor wages and apalling housing conditions. The wealthy lived in pleasant suburbs outside the city, but the workers lived close to their place of work in cramped rows of shoddily-built houses with no running water or indoor sanitation. The cellars - originally intended to contain the damp and prevent it from seeping up into the houses - were all too frequently let to sub-tenants, and became a national disgrace. The communal cess-pits regularly overflowed in rainy weather and the few existing water-closets emptied directly into the Irwell, where most working people obtained their drinking water.

The lack of clean drinking water combined with poor food preparation hygiene led inevitably to diseases such as cholera and typhoid, and diarrhoea was the main cause of death among young children. However, respiratory diseases such as bronchitis, pheumonia, asthma and influenza were even bigger killers, and pulmonary tuberculosis had the highest single mortality rate in Manchester. These diseases were caused by the smoke from factories and homes which hung permanently over the city, as well as the dust and cotton lint which hung in the air in the mills. Inevitably, the worst-affected areas were those inhabited by the working poor in the inner city, such as Hulme, Ancoats, Ardwick and Chorlton-on-Medlock.

Working class conditions began to improve in Manchester and Salford with the arrival of clean drinking water in the second half of the 19th century, even though most people still had to fetch it from stand-pipes in the street. Building regulations came into force controlling housing standards, and public baths and laundries were built. Most cellar dwellings were closed down in the 1870s, and the worst housing was gradually refurbished from 1885 onwards.  

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