1: A century of change in Manchester

During the 19th century, the city of Manchester was a major cotton producer and trade centre, well connected on the river Mersey, and supported by its Victorian port, railways and canals. Dubbed “cottonopolis”, Manchester and its surrounding Lancashire mill towns were responsible for the spinning of 32 per cent of global cotton production in the late 19th century.78 In 1911, 22 per cent of the city’s jobs were in textiles. Textile production also supported a logistics industry associated with the movement of goods, which in 1911 employed over 8 per cent of all workers.

Textiles and logistics, as Manchester’s key drivers of growth, began to falter during the interwar period, as a result of the Great Depression and growing competition from international trade. Although the city had around 80,000 more jobs in 1951 than in 1911, there were 90,000 fewer in textiles and logistics. These losses were offset by growth in chemical and electrical engineering. There was a 60 per cent increase in jobs in engineering and electrical goods between 1911 and 1951, and by 1951, this sector employed around the same proportion of workers as the textiles industry. Firms such as the Westinghouse Electrical Corporation and the Ford Motor Company in particular contributed to growth in this area.79

This diversification into new manufacturing industries did not last, however, and the 30 years after the war were disastrous for Manchester. Overall jobs declined by 22 per cent between 1951 and 1981; jobs in engineering and electrical goods nearly halved, and jobs in the textile industry declined by 86 per cent. By 1981, it was a city in desperate need of change.

The city’s response to this post-industrial decline was highly proactive. The Central Manchester Development Corporation was created in 1988 in order to redevelop the city centre, converting neglected buildings into offices and building new offices to allow businesses to thrive, and improving the public realm.80 These changes enabled the city to support a knowledge network, which alongside a period of strong national economic growth during the 1990s, helped in the creation of jobs, particularly in KIBS. Some small growth was seen during the 1990s, with 2 per cent growth in total jobs between 1991 and 1998, as new KIBS jobs in insurance and finance started to locate in Manchester.

The reaction to the IRA bombing in the city has also helped shape its recent history. The 1996 disaster devastated a large area of the city centre, but also prompted a massive regeneration project. A city centre masterplan created a new mixed-use space with leisure and cultural activities as well as offices,81 while many warehouses, relics from Manchester’s distribution history, were converted into city centre residences during the 1990s.82 Further developments such as Spinningfields have attracted the regional offices of companies such as The Royal Bank of Scotland and Barclays.83

The result is that Manchester is now experiencing a process of reinvention, having seen a 24 per cent growth in jobs between 1991 and 2013, including 77,000 more jobs in private sector knowledge-intensive service industries. It also had the second fastest growing city centre of all British cities between 1998 and 2008, driven by growth in KIBS.84

The scale of the deindustrialisation challenge was such that the city still has some way to go; in 2013 Manchester still had 90,000 fewer jobs than it did in 1951. However, its recent successes suggest that it is on a new pathway of knowledge-based economic growth.


  • 78 Lowe J (1854). “A Manchester warehouse”. Household Word  9: p.268–72. Cited by Williams M; Farnie DA (1992). Cotton mills in Greater Manchester. Preston: Carnegie. p. 20
  • 79 University of Manchester, (2013). Industrial Heritage in the Manchester Region. Manchester: 24th International Congress of History of Science, Technology and Medicine. http://www.ichstm2013.com/explore/industrial-local/
  • 80 HL Deb 18 March 1996. Central Manchester Development Corporation (Area and Constitution) Order 1996. Col 1113. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld199596/ldhansrd/vo960318/text/60318-09.htm
  • 81 McGough L and Thomas E (2014). Delivering change: Putting city centres at the heart of the local economy. London: Centre for Cities. https://www.centreforcities.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/14-12-11-Delivering-Change-City-Centres.pdf
  • 82 Henshall N (n.d.), Review: Manchester: Pevsner Architectural Guides by Clare Hartwell. History Today. http://www.historytoday.com/nicholas-henshall/manchester
  • 83 ‘Spinningfields becomes the city’s new centre of gravity.’ London: Financial Times, 26 April 2007. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/3f3a9866-f393-11db-9845-000b5df10621.html
  • 84 Swinney P and Sivaev D (2013) Beyond the High Street: Why our city centres really matter, London: Centre for Cities. https://www.centreforcities.org/publication/beyond-the-high-street/