An A-Z Journey Around Britain

30 Manchester


Size and location helps. Surrounded by the towns of Lancashire and close to Cheshire and Yorkshire, Manchester is the centre of the second most populous urban area in Britain. George Osborne likes its entrepreneurial spirit but the Peterloo Massacre happened at St Peter’s Field in Manchester. In 1819 a cavalry charged into a crowd of 40,000 cheesed off people who demanded parliamentary representation. 15 people were killed and hundreds were injured. Journalists were horrified by the slaughter. The Government was also outraged. They did not like the idea of so many Mancunians thinking that Britain was not so great after all. The Massacre led to a crackdown against public protest. Resistance continued. Engels and Marx helped.   They met at Chetham Library in Manchester and discussed what should happen next.

Benny Rothman no doubt read Marx and Engels in his Manchester home. He was a member of the Young Communist League. He organised the mass trespass of Kinder Scout in the Peak District to help achieve access of ordinary people to the English countryside. Benny thought ordinary people should have a look at the land that had been stolen from them. There was no cavalry charge but violent scuffles happened between protesters and gamekeepers.   Protest persisted, and the British now have a right to roam on open access land. Benny should be proud.

Manchester attracts tourists and visitors. The City is not a cohesive attraction but plenty of spots appeal. Manchester Town Hall is the best Gothic building in the North, and its Grand Hall has splendour that compares to anything in Europe. Piccadilly Gardens is an architectural mess but Albert Square has integrity intact and seductive charm. Canal Street has become the centre of a large gay and lesbian community. Canal Street is about the celebration of identity but elsewhere the canals of Manchester provide quiet retreats from the crowds.


Manchester once envied Liverpool because of the Beatles but it recovered well. Morrissey is charmless and witless yet he has his devotees. I was told that Manchester music is best defined by the Smiths, New Order and Joy Division.  The Salford based soap, Coronation Street, has been in decline for a long time. At its zenith it portrayed city life as well as Charles Dickens.

Liverpool and Manchester do not coexist easily. More than a few Liverpudlians think that the Manchester Ship Canal, built between 1888 and 1894, was a serious error. The Canal was used to drag cotton from the Port of Liverpool towards the cotton mills of Lancashire. I worked in Manchester for six years and realised that conflict exists not between opposite tribes but those who most resemble each other. Manchester and Liverpool are the two cities of Britain where a majority of the middle class vote for a better deal for ordinary people.

The great Marxist literary critic, Terry Eagleton, was born in Salford and he has a home in Manchester. He hates football, which he thinks helps keep people stupid. Whatever its merits football ensures that an antagonism will remain between two groups of people who have much in common. Manchester has two football teams that play in the Premier League. One of them plays in blue.

Next week, old hippies and mackerel, Mull

Howard Jackson has had four books published by Red Rattle Books. His 11,000 mile journey around Brazil is described in Innocent Mosquitoes. His latest book and compilation of horror stories is called Nightmares Ahead. Published by Red Rattle Books and praised by critics, it is available here.

If you want to read more about his travels click here.



3 Barnsley


The people from Barnsley think their town is right grand. More than anywhere, people are reluctant to leave. Barnsley voters believe in community identity. They elect Labour MPs with 60% of the vote. The existing metropolitan borough was formed in 1973 and has always been Labour controlled.

My best man was from Barnsley. He pronounced the word water so it rhymed with batter. Today the accent is not so distinct. Local pride has suffered. Barnsley once produced the finest beer ever. ‘Barnsley Bitter’ would emerge like yellow milkshake and then settle into pure white cloud over a golden horizon. Whitbread Brewery abandoned it to reduce costs and sabotage the British palate for future exploitation. Barnsley learnt that community spirit and identity have limits when dealing with corporate power.

Similar limitations were exposed in the Miners Strike of 1984 when Thatcher defeated the miners. Her victory required working class collaboration. Ordinary people were divided by uneven prosperity and, like the guests at Abigail’s Party, infected by raw aspiration.  Even my best man changed. He took me to a wife swapping party. Somehow I escaped.  Loyal to tradition but knowing the worst of themselves and others, Barnsley folk understand what exists outside and what they could have been.

Although mining communities were noted for social conservatism, Women Against Pit Closures began in Barnsley. This year the Experience Barnsley Museum honours the strike. In the Battle Of Orgreave, 8000 policemen faced 4000 miners. The right and the left argue about the numbers.

Orgreave was outside Barnsley, as were all the mines. The miners lived in Pennine villages. Most still live there but they are not miners anymore. The villages are battered by post-industrial poverty.

Workers inside Barnsley have a different history. When travel between London and the North expanded, Barnsley enabled travellers to rest, eat, drink and shop. The Royal Charter of 1249 permitted Barnsley a Wednesday market day. The market, regarded as the best in Yorkshire, now opens six days a week. In the 18th Century the Industrial Revolution brought to the town linen weaving and glass making.

The splendid Town Hall is made of Portland Stone and has a 145 feet tower. The building resembles Stormont. Both are classical but puritan monuments affected by history. As darkness arrives, the tower of the Town Hall is lit blue. Locals are suspicious of anything poncey. They claim that the mayor has bought a sun bed.

Radio station, We Are Barnsley, has the recommended Northern Soul And Tamla Show. The Arctic Monkeys, studied music at Barnsley College. Barnsley also has a rap group called Yes Sir. If they ever become famous, P Diddy will have an identity crisis.

Brian Glover was a Barnsley actor. He played a schoolteacher who imagines he is Bobby Charlton. Barnsley, though, has a football team. Few in Barnsley would favour Manchester United.

Unemployment in the last two years has risen by 13%. Like most urban centres, Barnsley has a Jobs And Business Plan. The good news is that Acorn Brewery has revived Barnsley Bitter.

Next week – Belfast


Howard Jackson has had three books published by Red Rattle Books. His 11,000 mile journey around Brazil is described in Innocent Mosquitoes. His next book is a compilation of horror stories and is called Nightmares Ahead. It will be available in Spring 2015

If you want to read more about his travels click here.