High Calvinists in Action: Calvinism and the City, Manchester and London, c. 1810-1860

By Ian J. Shaw | Go to book overview

3 The Manchester Context c.1810-60

Sooty Manchester . . . every whit as wonderful, as fearful, unimaginable, as the oldest Salem or Prophetic City 1

The ministries of William Gadsby, William Nunn, and William McKerrow were conducted in remarkable and often unsettled times in Manchester. By the end of the 1820s the city had a national reputation as the centre of social disturbance, and was even feared as the cradle of revolution. In the 1840s it had become the 'shock city of the age'. 2 Between 1801 and 1841 the population of Manchester and Salford increased from 89,308 to 255,070. 3 This included a large influx of some 35-40,000 Irish immigrants. 4 This changing, vibrant, urban environment forms the northern context for studying the interplay between people, places, and theology with which this book is concerned.

Cotton and its related trades and services dominated the Manchester economy, strongly interconnected with building, engineering, warehousing, and banking. It was calculated in 1836 that 64 per cent of the working population in Manchester were cotton operatives, but the figure was higher in surrounding towns. 5 Fundamental restructuring was occurring in the industry, with a shift to factory production, and consequent dislocations in the handloom-weaving sector. By 1819 there were some 20,000 spinning operatives in Manchester mills, but 40,000 still worked as handloom weavers in the town and its environs. 6 The wages of the latter fell markedly. For working 16 hours per day, often in a damp or ill-ventilated

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