Chester to York

On The Road Travel Essays

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Chester to York

Manchester  The area we'll be passing through for awhile is known as the "Industrial Midlands," where much of British manufacturing, coal-mining and processing is concentrated. Manchester, like Birmingham, is one such industrial center. (Population 700,000) Here, cotton was king, making for a large textile industry. Though the city seems to be inland, it's connected to the sea by the River Mersey, facilitating cheap transport. Since World War II, electronics, aircraft production, radar equipment, and chemical plants have been added to the time-honored cotton trade.

History: Manchester, like these other cities of the Midlands, owes its place to the Industrial Revolution. Industry brought prosperity to Manchester, swelling its population from 20,000 in 1750 to nearly 100,000 by 1800 (a huge figure for those days). Power was provided by many streams flowing west from the Pennine Hills. By the late-18th century, steam power took over, made cheap and plentiful by burning coal from vast coalfields in and around the city. The moist climate was suitable for cotton spinning (dry climates make cotton impossible to work with). In 1894 a ship canal was dug out, connecting the city to the River Mersey and thus to the sea.

Art and Culture: With middle-class wealth came public building, including a classical-style Royal Exchange. You're used to hearing that this or that cathedral is the "largest," the "tallest," its spire the biggest, etc. Well, Manchester's Gothic cathedral has the distinction of being England's smallest. (It was formerly an ordinary parish church converted into a cathedral.) Art galleries and two excellent theaters are among the country's finest. Manchester has two famous football clubs (soccer is almost a religion in the city). Manchester is the home of the distinguished newspaper the Guardian (formerly the Manchester Guardian), one of Britain's most celebrated.

Lancashire  We're going through the county of Lancashire, famous for its cotton industry but also for patches of lovely countryside. The county seat is Lancaster, over near the western coast. Besides Manchester, other major cotton-producing cities are Bolton, Stockport, and the major port of Liverpool. For people who live and work in these cities, there are holiday centers not far away: Blackpool, Fleetwood, and New Brighton. Fast trains whisk weekenders to the coast and back — a convenient arrangement.

Rochdale (Off Motorway to the left.)  Another busy cotton town. Cotton supplanted wool as the basic textile in the 18th century, when new inventions made it easier to spin. E.g., the fly-shuttle invented by John Kay and the drop bow. Industrialism, capitalism, and the trade-union movement sprang up together in these manufacturing cities. Rochdale was the birthplace of the co-operative movement, based on the principle of payment of dividend on purchases made by members.

Halifax (Quite a ways off the Motorway to the left.)  Perhaps the oldest of the textile towns of central England. Weaving was a skill perfected back in Anglo-Saxon times; tapestries, brocade, and crewel work were prized by England's Norman conquerors (the Bayeux tapestry in Normandy is an example). But the English knew how to profit by foreign artisans too. Flemish weavers arrived in England during the Middle Ages, and helped perfect the textile craft in Halifax. The greatest quantity of woolen goods were produced in Halifax during the Middle Ages. Daniel Defoe wrote his famous Robinson Crusoe while living in Halifax, and much of the novel was written in the Rose and Crown Inn (still standing); there are descriptions of Halifax in his works.

Leeds  We've entered the county of Yorkshire, and Leeds (population 550,000) is its largest city and commercial center. It was the heart of Britain's clothing industry, as you'd expect in view of the cotton and wool processing in the cities nearby. Like other manufacturing centers, Leeds has restored much of its downtown area, and adding facilities to handle traffic and shopping crowds. Also like other industrial towns, it continues to sponsor cultural activities to relieve the urban monotony: first-class shops, theaters, and the famed University of Leeds give the city a cultural life of its own. In Leeds is the Leeds City Varieties, the only music hall in England which still puts on a different show every week; this vaudeville tradition at the Varieties goes back 200 years.

(COURIER: Now start your introduction to York.)

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